A Santa Ana man has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to nine years in prison for attempting to hire a hitman to kill his ex-wife and dispose of her body in the ocean.
Only thing was the “hitman” was an undercover cop.
William John Wallace struck the rare plea deal as jurors were deliberating in his case. Jurors had been sending various questions to the judge throughout the day Thursday, but by the end of the day prosecutors and the defendant had struck a plea deal that allowed Wallace to avoid a life sentence.
Wallace pleaded guilty to attempted murder and two counts of solicitation of murder. As part of the plea deal, Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Geller dumped a sentencing enhancement for premeditation and deliberation that would have guaranteed at least seven years to life in prison for Wallace.
“I’m very pleased with the result because he pled guilty to everything he was charged with and he was sentenced to the maximum punishment on attempted murder,” Geller told City News Service.
Jurors appeared to be hung 10-2 for guilt on the attempted murder charge, Geller said. The hang-up appeared to be that Wallace never actually handed over any money in the deal, Geller said.
Wallace’s attorney, John Barnett, argued in the trial that his client could not be found guilty of attempted murder with premeditation and deliberation as well as two counts of solicitation because he never paid a dime to the men brokering the deal, which was actually an undercover sting.
Wallace hired private detective Sean Hyepock in July 2013 “to dig up dirt on his ex-wife,” with whom the defendant was locked in a bitter child support and custody battle, Mark Geller said.
Hyepock grew concerned about his client’s ire toward his ex-wife when the defendant began to speak about hiring a hitman for $9,000 from England, Geller said.
“Now it’s become pretty scary for Mr. Hyepock,” Geller said in his opening statement of the trial.
Hyepock contacted a Santa Ana police detective, who advised him to begin tape recording the private investigator’s conversations with his client, Geller said.
Jurors heard 10 tape recordings taken from summer 2013 through the end of the year.
On the recordings, Wallace talks about getting a “burner” phone from a Target in south Orange County so it would cast suspicion on his ex-wife’s current husband as their marriage was also faltering, Geller said.
Orange County sheriff’s investigators took charge of the case in October and begin to set up a sting with investigator Bill Beeman posting as a hitman known as “The Captain,” Geller said.
Wallace refused to pay the Captain his fee upfront as he didn’t “trust Americans,” and in November the defendant slowed down talks because the legal battle had become so heated he was sure he would be the prime suspect in his ex- wife’s murder, Geller said.
But by Thanksgiving, Wallace met with Hyepock again and told him, “It’s time. I can’t take it anymore,” Geller said.
Wallace told Hyepock, “even if someone beat the crap out of her I would enjoy that,” and, “We can do the other thing later,” according to Geller.
Wallace felt by December that he wasn’t in danger of being the prime suspect because he said his ex-wife was “presently at war with three other people,” according to Geller.
Wallace agreed to pay $2,500 to the hitman upfront and brought a picture of the target at a first personal meeting between the two on Dec. 21, 2013, Geller said. Wallace met with Beeman in a car in a Santa Ana supermarket parking lot, Geller said.
Wallace said he did not want his ex-wife killed in front of their then-4-year-old daughter, Geller said. Wallace planned to leave the country during the murder so he would have an alibi, Geller said.
Beeman told Wallace that it would be “really hard” to stop the plan because he was going to dump his disposable phone after the meeting, so he asked the defendant if he was sure he wanted to go through with it and Wallace gave him a “thumbs up,” Geller said.
Barnett said his client owns Dutch Gardens Supplies, “But really what he does is sell manure… and he’s a big talker.”
Hyepock “is a felon and ex-thief… and he’s a big talker, too,” Barnett said in his opening statement.
Wallace kept insisting on using Hyepock as a sort of “escrow agent,” meaning he would give the fee to Hyepock, who would deliver it to the hitman, Barnett said.
Wallace, however, never paid anyone a dime, Barnett said.
“So there was no deal beyond talking about it,” Barnett said.
Throughout much of the discussion with Hyepock and Beeman, “Billy is bragging and blustering” only, Barnett said.
–City News Service
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