Press-Republican

September 28, 2011

Malone man gets prison in 'hit man' case

DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

MALONE — A Malone junk-yard owner will spend five to 15 years in state prison for trying to hire someone to kill his ex-girlfriend.

Clyde M. Gardner, 57, of 402 Brainardsville Road pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy in July and was sentenced Wednesday by Franklin County Court Judge Robert G. Main Jr.

Gardner admitted that last year he gave an acquaintance a photograph of the woman, her license-plate number and the first $500 of a $15,000 agreed-upon price to kill her in a car crash and make it look like an accident.

Gardner instructed the man that if the crash didn't kill her, "to take a piece of the broken windshield and slit her throat," Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Crawford said.

WANTS TO MOVE ON

The pair had been together about five years and had a child, but it was an abusive relationship that involved domestic violence, Crawford said.

The victim was in the courtroom with seven friends and relatives but declined be interviewed.

Through Public Defender Thomas Soucia, she said she wanted to "get on with her life and take care of her child."

STALKED

The woman repeatedly broke up with Gardner; she kicked him out for good on Sept. 25, 2010.

Soon, he became obsessed and began spying on her, prosecutors said.

"He would park a mile away from where she was living and walk through the woods across a river and lay in the back yard, hiding in the woods with binoculars, watching her," Crawford said in an interview with the Press-Republican after the court session.

BEAR DEATH PLOT

The staged car crash that led to his arrest was the second idea Gardner had discussed with the hit man for how he wanted the woman killed.

The original murder plot was for Gardner to hunt down a bear on the man's property then skin it to take off its four claws and its pelt.

The hired killer was to put the pelt on like a suit and wear the paws like boots and gloves, then maul the woman to death to make it look like an animal had killed her.

"He'd been watching her from the woods, so he knew exactly when she would take her garbage out, so it was supposed to look like she got mauled by a bear," Crawford said.

"The claws were to be worn as boots and on his hands so there would be only bear tracks, no human tracks.

"But (the hit man) said he only had three acres to hunt on and no bears," she said.

CRASH INSTRUCTIONS

That's when the staged car crash was planned instead.

"With his demolition-derby experience, Gardner told the guy just how to crash the cars," Crawford said.

The hired killer went to the police with the whole story when he realized Gardner was serious about wanting the woman dead.

He was fitted with a concealed recording device and met with Gardner again, who repeated his grisly instructions.

Gardner told the judge Wednesday that he intended to call off the hit once he had sobered up and realized what he had asked the hit man to do. But he was arrested on his way to the man's house, he said.

PLEA DELAYS

The case was about to go to trial in July when the plea agreement was reached with the District Attorney's Office.

But it was repeatedly delayed because Gardner said he watched a television show in jail where the character "did the same thing as me" and had a lesser sentence than the one he was offered.

Gardner also said he getting legal advice from what Defense Attorney Peter Dumas called "jailhouse lawyers," who told him the three-to-nine-year offer from the DA's Office was just the first offer. If he dragged the case out, a different deal would be offered with less prison time, he was told.

Instead, Gardner ended up with a minimum of five years, a $5,000 fine, $200 in fees and surcharges and an order of protection against him in effect until 2031.

ALCOHOL PROBLEMS

"No one will know what would have happened if you hadn't been arrested when you were," the judge said. "There is absolutely no proof that that was in your mind or that you would have actually tried to stop what you have put into motion.

"I read the grand-jury minutes, and that testimony was chilling," Main said. "You had a number of opportunities and much time to end what you set in motion, and you did not."

The judge said he recognizes Gardner has a problem with alcohol, and that was taken into consideration when he made his decision about the five-to-15-year punishment.

"I recognize this is a long sentence, but it's not as long as an eternity of death your victim faced."

E-mail Denise A. Raymo at: draymo@pressrepublican.com