A federal judge sentenced a Mississippi woman to 10 years in prison for hiring and paying a hitman $10,000 in bitcoin to kill her ex-husband.
Jessica Leeann Sledge, 40, pleaded guilty in February to using interstate commerce with the intent to hire an assassin between Sept. 21 and Nov. 1, 2021, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Mississippi.
In addition to 120 months in federal prison, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves sentenced Sledge to three years of supervised probation once she is released and a $1,000 fine.
Sledge was unaware that that the “hitman” she hired through the internet was an undercover FBI agent. The victim was not harmed, prosecutors said.
In handing down the sentence Reeves quoted the author of the book “Just Mercy,” Bryan Stevenson. He said “each person is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done. This is obviously a case of that, based on the letters and her criminal history,” according to WBLT.
He added: “But this is an egregious crime. ... Scheming to kill an individual is an extraordinary offense. Any sentence must reflect that this is indeed a serious offense.”
Sledge was attempting to murder her ex-husband, Jerry, court documents revealed. Dozens of letters were written on her behalf and the court took a recess so Reeves could read them before handing down his sentence, WBLT reported.
Sledge’s attorney, John Colette, sought leniency citing his client’s remorse and that she was a first-time offender with “zero chance of recidivism,” the station reported.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Fulcher pushed back, noting that Sledge told the undercover FBI agent that she might want to have someone else murdered.
The prosecutor said that Sledge told the “hitman” that she was romantically involved with another man and might marry him after the hit took place.
“The premeditation of this ... the efforts she went to plan this over time,” Fulcher said, according to WBLT. “But for the fact the FBI introduced an [undercover] agent, Ms. Sledge knew [this murder] was going to take place.”
Colette said there was no proof that Sledge was targeting anyone else. He said she was testing the hitman.
“[The government] has played this ‘second victim card’ from the arraignment to today. There was never, ever, ever any second person. They had all this time. If there was a second person, there would be another charge and another person,” he said.
Reeves said he was troubled by the nature of the crime and Sledge’s demeanor noting that she never appeared afraid or questioned going through with the plot.
“What we have here is a methodical plan to kill her husband,” he said. “All of that is very troubling to the court and the law itself.”
Prosecutors said in a criminal complaint that Sledge sent three bitcoin payments totaling $10,000 using Whatsapp in October.
Sledge had extensive conversations with the undercover agent from Oct. 22 to 26, according to the complaint.
“During these conversations, Sledge provided specific information concerning Victim 1 to the UC (undercover agent). Sledge provided the UC with multiple photos of Victim 1 and photos of several vehicles that Victim 1 normally drives, including the license plate numbers/letters of the vehicles,” prosecutors wrote in the complaint.
Authorities had Sledge under physical surveillance on Oct. 26, in Pelahatchie, Mississippi. “Sledge contacted the UC via WhatsApp and described the vehicle that Victim 1 was driving to the store to the Marathon gas station to get breakfast.”
On Nov. 1, Sledge agreed to meet with the undercover agent making an additional payment in cash and discussing the murder. Sledge was later arrested and admitted to her role in the murder for hire scheme.