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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Julia Merfeld Murder-For-Hire Case

     Early in 2013, 27-year-old Jacob Merfeld and his wife Julia moved from Keyport, a small Monmouth County town in eastern New Jersey, to Muskegon, Michigan. While they settled into their Muskegon apartment, the couple's two children, a 4-year-old daughter and a boy who was two, were cared for by Jacob's parents in neighboring Wisconsin.

     There was nothing about Jacob Merfeld, a member of the U. S. Coast Guard, or his 21-year-old wife that seemed out of the ordinary. To the outside world they appeared to be a typical middle-class couple doing their best to raise their children and succeed in life.

     In late March 2013, Julia told co-worker Carlos Ramos that she wanted out of her marriage. She said that although her husband was a nice guy who treated her well, she had found someone else, a person she wanted to live with. While Ramos found this revelation mildly provocative, what came out of this woman's mouth next truly shocked him.

     Julia, over a period of several days, talked about how her husband's death would be so much better for her than a divorce and all that went with such a prolonged, complicated process. For one thing, a divorce would be embarrassing, and it would break Jacob's heart. So this was her plan: She would pay Carlos $50,000 out of Jacob's $400,000 life insurance policy if he murdered her husband. The money would be paid to the hit man in $10,000 installments.

     When this ordinary, unexceptional young wife and mother offered Carlos $50,000 to commit cold-blooded murder, he didn't take her seriously enough to notify the authorities. Carlos figured she was either joking or just blowing off steam. The cool, unemotional way Julia discussed having her husband dispatched by a contract killer made the whole proposition seem unreal.

     Carlos Ramos started to change his mind about Julia as she continued to talk about her murder-for-hire fantasy, and his role in it as the hit man. He eventually decided that she meant business, and that his best course of action involved notifying the Muskegon County Sheriff's Office about her deadly plan. He certainly had no intention of becoming a hired killer. The fact she even considered him a candidate for such an assignment boggled his mind, and convinced him there was something profoundly wrong with this woman. She spoke of murdering another human being the way one would speak of squashing a cockroach.

     On April 9 and 10, 2013, an undercover officer with the Muskegon County Sheriff's Office who posed as a hit man, met with Julia Merfeld in the officer's car in a Fruitport Township parking lot. With the hidden camera running, the murder-for-hire mastermind explained her reasons for such a drastic solution to a common problem: "It's not that we weren't getting along," she said. "But as terrible as it sounds, it was easier than divorcing him. You know, I don't have to worry about the judgment of my family. I don't have to worry about breaking his heart." (I'm sure if given the choice, Jacob Merfeld would say, "break my heart, please.")

     Julia instructed the phony hit man that she didn't want him to kill Jacob as part as a staged burglary that turned violent. Her reason for not wanting him to do that was self-serving: she didn't want to scare off the person she hoped would move into the apartment with her after Jacob's death. Besides, an inside killing would be, in her words, "messy."

     Julia said she hoped the hit man would do his job in such a way that wouldn't cause Jacob a lot of pain. She recommended the breaking of his neck. (This woman had obviously seen movies featuring trained killers adept at fatally snapping necks. In real life, breaking a person's neck is not an efficient or easy way to commit murder.) The undercover cop remarked that he usually killed people with guns and knives. Throughout the murder-for-hire conversation, the officer repeatedly told Julia that he was going to put two bullets in Jacob's "noggin." To that she repeatedly responded, "Okay."

     Julia informed the undercover officer that she did not want to know in advance when he planned to commit the murder. "It would be better if you surprised me," she said. "The more shocked I am when it happens, the better. I just want to make it as non-suspicious as possible."

     At one point during her two meetings with the sheriff's deputy, Julia asked, "What happens if you are caught?" The officer assured Julia that as long as he or an associate kept receiving the hit money installments, her name would be kept out of the investigation. (It's hard to image anyone stupid enough to believe that a captured hit man would not immediately roll over on the mastermind.)

     Toward the end of their second meeting on April 10, 2013, Julia handed the undercover officer $100 in upfront money to show that she was serious about having her husband murdered. She also gave the officer a floor-plan to the apartment, a photograph of  her husband, and written directions to the apartment complex where she hoped the hit man would kill Jacob as he walked out of the building. At this point, the man Julia thought was a contract killer, displayed his badge and placed her under arrest.

     A Muskegon County prosecutor charged Julia Charlene Merfeld with solicitation to commit murder. The local magistrate denied her bail.

     On June 27, 2013, faced with the certainty of a conviction based on the videotapes of her conversations with the undercover officer, Merfeld pleaded guilty to the solicitation charge. Three days later, as she stood before the sentencing judge, the defendant said, "I do not believe I'm above punishment. I know what I did was wrong and I take full responsibility. My tears are for remorse, not pity."

     Julia's husband, the man she tried to have murdered, also spoke at the sentencing hearing. Jacob Merfeld told Judge William C. Marietti that he had forgiven his wife because she was a "godly woman who did an ungodly thing." Jacob asked the judge not to send his wife to prison.

     Judge Marietti sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to six to twenty years behind bars. This was an extremely light sentence.

     

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