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Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Sharon Voit Murder-For-Hire Case: Until Death Do Us Part

     Years ago, the person who said that marriages start in bed and end up in court wasn't thinking of murder. Those were the good old days. Today, a few marriages end up with one of the parties in court, and the other in the morgue. Wives engineer the deaths of their estranged husbands out of fear they will be left penniless following the divorce. For women trapped in bad marriages, murder, compared to divorce, is quicker and a lot more satisfying. Homicidal husbands want their wives dead to avoid legal fees, the divvying up of the marital estate, alimony, and the expense of child support. Familiarity can breed contempt. Marriage, familiarity, and divorce can breed criminal homicide. In the world of murder-for-hire, the contentious divorce is perhaps the number one motive.

The Sharon Voit Case

     On July 13, 1995, Dr. Kerry Voit, his wife Sharon and their three daughters were watching television in the den of their home in the tranquil village of Golf on the northern outskirts of Chicago. At a quarter to ten, Dr. Voit, stating that he was tired and wanted to retire for the night in that room, switched off the TV. This enraged his wife, and in the scuffle that ensured, Sharon took a punch in the eye. Dr. Voit suffered scratches on his arm, and came away from the fight with a bruised leg. Sharon ordered her husband out of the house. When he refused to leave, she phoned the Cook County Sheriff's Office.

     The deputies who responded to the domestic disturbance received conflicting stories from the Voit daughters. Two of the girls sided with their father, the third with Mrs. Voit. The officers decided not to arrest anyone, but ordered Dr. Voit, a successful downtown Chicago dentist, to leave the house for 72 hours. He spent the next few nights in Harwood Heights at his mother's house.

     Not long after the police call, a family court judge ordered the Voits into marriage counseling, but it was too late for that. The couple continued to fight, and for the next year or so, Dr. Voit moved back and forth between his mother's place and the family home. In the summer of 1997 he moved out permanently.

     The Voit marriage had been an unhappy one from the start. As a 22-year-old dental hygienist, Sharon had helped put Kerry through dental school, then worked in his office until their first child. They had talked about divorce many times, but he didn't want to split up because he thought the divorce would ruin him financially. As a result, the couple found themselves trapped in a marriage that brought them both misery. Finally, Sharon decided that she couldn't take it anymore. That's when she began thinking of murder.

     In the spring of 1999, while talking with Carl Poe, the husband of the ice skating coach working with their youngest daughter, Sharon said she wished she could find someone to have Dr. Voit "taken care of." Mr. Poe passed the comment on to his wife Robyn who dismissed it as a joke. Although Sharon didn't sound like she was joking, Carl agreed with his wife's assessment of black humor bubbling up out of frustration and stress.

     Two months after the "taken care of" comment, Sharon shocked Dr. Voit's friend, Matt Georgopolous, when she said, quite specifically, that the only way she could achieve happiness was to find someone who would kill her husband. Mr. Georgopolous didn't think she was joking, and warned his friend that his life might be in danger. Dr. Voit laughed it off, explaining that Sharon was a mentally unstable person who was just letting off steam.

     On March 8, 2000, while conferring with Robyn Poe at an ice skating competition in Buffalo, New York, Sharon asked the coach if she knew anyone who could "take Kerry out." Although alarmed by the question, Robyn decided to ignore Sharon's query. Carl had been right; she seemed deadly serious. In a restaurant two days later with Matt Georgopolous and Robyn Poe, Sharon brought up the murder-for-hire subject again. Shortly after that, she asked the family accountant if Dr. Voit had changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy. The accountant said he had no knowledge of such matters.

     When Dr. Voit learned of his wife's recent life insurance and hit man inquiries, he decided to take the situation a little more seriously. He called a friend in the Cook County State Attorney's office and reported that Sharon might be trying to have him murdered. The prosecutor referred the complaint to the Chicago Police Department where Detective John Duffy took charge of the case. After talking to Dr. Voit and Matt Georgopolous, the detective asked Tim Kaufmann, a deputy with the sheriff's office special operations branch, to enter the case as an undercover hit man.

     A few days after talking with Detective Duffy, Deputy Kaufmann called Sharon Voit and said, "I understand you have a problem you want taken care of." She responded by requesting a meeting the following afternoon in the parking lot of a local grocery store. The next day at one-thirty, Sharon, behind the wheel of her SUV, pulled into the lot. After climbing into the officer's vehicle, Sharon asked Deputy Kaufmann which one of her friends had spoken to him regarding her problem. The undercover cop replied that in his business that kind of information was confidential. Seemingly convinced that this man was in the business of killing people for money, Sharon set up a second meeting.

     On March 17, 2000, a covert police video surveillance team stood by as Sharon Voit pulled her SUV into another local parking lot. Deputy Kaufmann, wearing a body microphone, climbed into her vehicle, and without specific reference to Dr. Voit, asked if she were serious about solving her problem. "Yep," she replied, "it's gotta be done." She then asked how much it would cost. The undercover officer said it depended on how much money she could raise. About seven thousand dollars she replied.

     To establish his bona fides as a paid assassin, Deputy Kaufmann said that after killing people for the United States government as a combat soldier in Viet Nam, he had gone into business for himself. Being in the profession of taking people out didn't bother him at all. Regarding the Voit hit, he said he would do it in a way that would make the murder look like it had been committed by a robber. In discussing possible times and places, Sharon revealed that Dr. Voit had planned a scuba diving trip to the Bahamas the following week. Deputy Kaufmann said he would kill her husband in the Bahamas. To that Sharon replied that she didn't care where or how the job was done. She said she had no interest in details. She just wanted to have her "misery finished."

     Deputy Kaufmann told Sharon that he needed $600 in upfront money to cover the cost of his trip to the Bahamas. She could mail him the balance due after he completed the job. The undercover cop handed her a slip of paper bearing the post office address where she could sent the rest of the money. Sharon next described her husband's daily routine and provided the officer with the address of his mother's house in Harwood Heights. The deputy said he had everything he needed except a photograph of the target and the expense money. They could meet again, or she could get the photograph and the $600 while he waited in the parking lot. She replied that she would have what he wanted in less than an hour. Before he returned to his car to wait for the photograph and the money, Deputy Kaufmann asked Sharon if this was really what she wanted to do. (A real hit man would never ask this question.) She said yes; the man she wanted killed had made her life miserable. This was the only way she knew to relieve that misery. She had made her decision.

     An hour later, Sharon Voit returned to the parking lot. As Deputy Kaufmann walked away from her vehicle with the photograph and the upfront money, police officers swooped in and took her into custody. One moment she thought her problems were over, the next she was sitting in the back of a police car wearing handcuffs. When informed she had been talking to an undercover cop who had recorded the conversation, she admitting trying to hire the officer to kill her husband. Charged with solicitation of murder Sharon Voit landed in the Cook County Jail with her bond set at $10 million.

     After conferring with her attorney, Sharon Voit decided to take back her confession and plead not guilty. The defense lawyer would argue entrapment, that the undercover officer had essentially talked his 51-year-old client into soliciting the murder of her husband. In support of this hard-to-establish defense, the attorney would parse the recorded conversation, noting at one point that Voit had said, "Part of me wants him to get help so it would be better." The defense attorney also planned to highlight the absence of key words such as "hit man," "kill," "murder," and "dead." The attorney must have known that his defense, given the context of the case, would be a hard sell.

     Sharon Voit's trial, held in Skokie, Illinois, got underway in January 2003. As evidence of her guilt, the prosecutor presented the testimony of the Poes, Matt Georgopolous, and Detective John Duffy. Jurors also heard the taped conversation featuring undercover officer,Tim Kaufmann and the defendant. The jury also learned that the defendant had given the officer $600 and the photograph of her husband.

     In anticipation of the insanity defense, the prosecutor arranged, shortly after Sharon's arrest, to have her examined by a pair of state psychiatrists. The doctors took the stand and testified that in their expert opinions, the defendant, at the time of her conversation with the undercover officer, was not legally insane, suffering from the battered woman syndrome, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

     Sharon Voit's attorney had asked Dr. Susan M. Nowak, a Chicago psychiatrist, to examine his client to determine if the effects of her marriage had made her especially vulnerable to being entrapped by an undercover cop. The trial judge accepted Dr. Nowak as an expert witness, but decided to hear her testimony outside the presence of the jury. If Dr. Nowak convinced the judge that the undercover officer had entrapped the defendant, he would direct a verdict of not guilty. Otherwise, the case would go to the jury without Dr. Nowak's testimony.

     Dr. Nowak had investigated Sharon Voit's medical history that included reviewing court documents and psychiatric reports. The psychiatrist had also interviewed Sharon as well as two of her friends. The story of the defendant's life, as related to the court by the psychiatrist, portrayed Dr. Voit as a cruel and abusive husband. According to the doctor, Sharon met Kerry when they were high school sophomores. Five years later they married, and shortly after that, he started hitting her. While working in the office as his dental hygienist, Sharon caught him in the closet using cocaine with a female employee. Over the years the successful dentist had taken other women on lavish trips, showering them with expensive gifts.

     The defense psychiatrist testified that Dr. Voit had forced Sharon to have video-taped, three-way, cocaine-laced sex with him and his friend, Matt Georgopolous. The defendant also told Dr. Nowak that her husband, during "violent" sexual intercourse, would hold a pillow over her face against her will. She had threatened to divorce him several times, but he and his attorney always talked her out of going through with the legal proceeding.

     Dr. Nowak, to a degree of reasonable medical certainty, said that it was her expert opinion that the defendant, while not legally insane, possessed a "dependent personality disorder" that had rendered her vulnerable to police entrapment. The judge ruled that the doctor's testimony did not establish a legal case for entrapment. It wasn't that the judge didn't believe the defendant's characterization of her husband, he just didn't see how it related to the legal defense of entrapment. If anything, the defendant's marital history provided a strong motive for the murder solicitation.

    The Voit trial went forward without Dr Nowak's open court testimony. On January 10, 2003, following a five-hour deliberation, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. A few weeks later the judge sentenced Sharon Voit to 23 years in prison. Voit's next door neighbor told a reporter she was shocked by the verdict. "They were such a loving couple," she said. "They were just so proud of each other. He talked about what a good cook and golfer she was. She was proud of what a good dentist he was. As time goes by I guess you can't maintain that forever." 

1 comment:

  1. Poor lady. Her husband was a Jerk big time. But if she would just let Karma take over....

    ReplyDelete