Appeals court upholds murder-for-hire conviction
by Kootenai Valley Record
May 28, 2009
A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of a Libby man serving a 10-year prison sentence for trying to hire a hit man to murder his estranged wife.
Shane Sichting was found guilty in December 2007 under a federal murder for hire law. He appealed his conviction to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on four grounds; the court ruled last week that the conviction should stand.
First, Sichting argued that the federal district court improperly denied his motion to exclude testimony about his tumultuous relationship with his wife, Sheilagh. The appeals court ruled that even if the court erred in allowing the testimony, the jury was presented with an abundance of other evidence that independently established the case.
Second, Sichting contended that benefits the government provided its star witness amounted to bribery. The appeals court ruled that there was no evidence that an identification card, travel expenses and other benefits provided to the witness were excessive or corrupted his testimony.
Third, Sichting argued that the government presented insufficient evidence to prove the element of interstate commerce in the case. The appeals court found that telephone calls and wire transfers between Sichting and the man he hired to procure a hit man were sufficient to prove the interstate commerce element.
Finally, Sichting contended that his attorney’s failure to request an entrapment instruction to the jury constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The appeals court declined to address the argument on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
Sichting was arrested in August 2007 in the middle of divorce proceedings at the Lincoln County Courthouse. He was charged with paying an employee $35,000 to help him hire someone to kill his estranged wife.
According to court documents, a former employee of Sichting’s business, American Muscle Autoworks, had contacted law enforcement authorities in the summer of 2007 and told them that within days of starting work in November 2006 he had been asked by Sichting if he could find someone in Mexico who could kill his wife.
The man said he never intended to fulfill the contract but planned to "scam" Sichting for money. He said Sichting gave him $5,000 in cash as a deposit and about three weeks later gave him another $25,000. After receiving the payment, the man left Libby and went to Oregon. In February 2007, Sichting wired another $5,000.
The man told law enforcement officers that he became concerned for his own safety after receiving a phone call from Sichting from an Oregon area code.
The man later spoke with Sichting about the plot via phone calls monitored by the FBI. According to the government’s case, Sichting indicated he still wanted his estranged wife killed. An undercover officer posing as a hit man met with Sichting, and during that meeting Sichting allegedly reaffirmed his intentions to have the murder committed.
Editor’s Note: See the May 26, 2009 edition of the Kootenai Valley Record for the printed version of this story. The Kootenai Valley Record publishes once a week, now on Tuesday, in Libby, Montana. They are a locally owned community newspaper, located at 403 Mineral Avenue in Libby. For in-county and out-of-county subscription information, call 406-293-2424, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.