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Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Tiffany Stevens Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2009, Eric Stevens and his 34-year-old wife Tiffany, a wealthy couple living in Simsbury, Connecticut with their 4-year-old daughter, agreed to get divorced. Following the granting of the divorce in 2011, Tiffany gained primary custody of their daughter. This did not sit well with Eric Stevens who contested the family court ruling on the grounds his ex-wife was a drug addict and an unfit parent. Moreover, Tiffany had refused to let him visit the girl.

     In July 2012, John McDaid, a handyman who had worked for the couple when they were married, went to Eric Stevens with some disturbing news. In April of that year, Tiffany had given him $5,000 to have him--Mr. Stevens--killed. The would-be hit man said he had spent the money and never intended to carry out the murder assignment.

     Eric Stevens reported the murder-for-hire plot to the Simsbury police who in turn questioned John McDaid. McDaid said that he and Tiffany Stevens, over a period of several months, engaged in many conversations in which she pleaded with him to do the job she had paid him to do. He had secretly audio-taped one of those conversations. According to McDaid, Tiffany wanted to make sure she maintained control of a $50 million trust fund set aside for the care of her daughter. If she lost custody of the child, she'd lose control of that money.

     On July 13, 2012, detectives took Tiffany Stevens into custody on the charge of inciting injury to a person. The judge set her bail at $1 million which she quickly posted. The accused murder-for-hire mastermind, now living in Bloomfield, Connecticut, pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     Following his ex-wife's arrest, Eric Stevens petition the court for custody of his daughter. Hartford Family Court Judge Leslie Olear denied that request.

     At a pretrial hearing on November 18, 2013, Tiffany Stevens' attorney, Herbert Santos, was prepared to plead his client guilty pursuant to a plea agreement with prosecutor Anthony Bochicchio, a deal that guaranteed no prison time. At the last minute, however, the prosecutor backed out of the deal. The case would go to trial on the charge of attempted murder.

     On December 2, 2014, the murder-for-hire trial got underway before Hartford Superior Court Judge Edward J. Mullarkey. Defense attorney Santos, in his opening statement to the jury, said that the defendant, at the time of her conversations with John McDaid, had been so drug-addled that she had been incapable of forming the requisite specific intent to solicit her ex-husband's murder.

     The prosecution's star witness, John McDaid, the handyman from Granville, Massachusetts, took the stand and testified that in April 2012 the defendant slapped an envelope containing $5,000 across his chest and said, "Get it done." According to the witness, she wanted Mr. Stevens "taken out." McDaid said he used the hit money to buy clothing for his children, a washer and dryer, and other things. The witness said that the defendant tried to motivate him by claiming that her ex-husband had abused her.

     Against the objections of the defense, prosecutor Bochicchio played the audio recording of a conversation between McDaid and the defendant in which she implored him to get the job done. "Find somebody. I want him killed," she said.

     On cross-examination, attorney Santos brought out that Mr. McDaid had a long criminal history that included 22 felony convictions. The witness also admitted saying, with regard to his murder plot conversations with the defendant, that he "almost didn't think it was real."

     On December 7, 2014, after the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Santos put Dr. Seth Feurstein on the stand. The professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine had analyzed the audio-taped conversation and said, "She seemed like she might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

     The last witness for the defense, Edward Khalily, the defendant's father, a prominent Long Island businessman, provided the jury with an extended history of his daughter's drug addiction. According to the witness, Eric Stevens had his problems as well that included a gambling habit that involved losses between $8 and $11 million. According to Mr. Khalily, Mr. Stevens' gambling addiction resulted in outbursts of temper that caused Tiffany to lock their daughter in a bedroom.

       Mr. Khalily, still under attorney Santos' direct-examination, said that immediately after Tiffany's arrest, Eric Stevens sought out tabloid media attention regarding the $50 million trust fund, stating that whoever got custody of the child would have access to that money. (When attorney Santos had Eric Stevens on the stand, he had asked him if the trust fund actually existed. "Not to my knowledge," came the response.)

     Defense attorney Santos did not put the defendant on the stand to testify on her own behalf. In summing up his case for the jury, he attacked John McDaid's credibility and suggested that the audio recording, because of several gaps, had been tampered with. Moreover, he said there was no record proving that the defendant had withdrawn $5,000 from a bank.

     After portraying his client as a vulnerable, impaired drug-addled woman, Attorney Santos argued that the prosecution had not carried its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

     On December 8, 2014, Judge Mullarkey handed the case to the jury. Four days later, the jury foreman announced that the panel was hopelessly deadlocked on the question of the defendant's guilt. Judge Mullarkey had no choice but to declare a mistrial. This left the prosecutor with the decision of whether to recharge Tiffany Stevens with attempted murder, offer her a plea deal on a lesser charge, or drop the case.

     

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