Suspect in plot to kill Bellaire socialite enters guilty plea; gets 20 years

July 27, 2012 7:51:49 PM PDT
The woman at the center of the Bellaire murder-for-hire plot is going to prison. But her target, the wife of her former lover, says the plea deal is corrupt.

It's the final chapter in a murder-for-hire plot that made national headlines. Michelle Gaiser admitted she hired several men to kill her former lover's wife -- and now she's going to prison for it. But not everyone is satisfied with her guilty plea and her sentence.

Fighting back tears, Yvonne Stern took the stand Friday morning, addressing the court on Michelle Gaiser's plea deal. Her voice cracked as she read, "I beg you for the sake of my children and my sense of security to reject this 20 year deal. I have suffered for over two years due to this animal and remain scarred for life."

[ READ THE FULL VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT ]

But the judge accepted the plea deal for Gaiser's role in the conspiracy to kill Yvonne Stern. Her attorneys pointed out that Gaiser is cooperative and remorseful.

"Based upon our client's cooperation, based on the truth she told the state, based upon the fact that her testimony and her cooperation led to the shooter, our team felt like she should have gotten a lot less time," said Gaiser's defense attorney James Stafford.

The plea comes just a few days after prosecutors dropped all charges against Jeffrey Stern, who allegedly tried to have his wife Yvonne killed. Gaiser, who was Stern's mistress, was supposed to testify against him in court.

Prosecutors said, "From the day she was arrested, Ms. Gaiser cooperated with investigators and prosecutors. Critically, she was our only source for the identity of the gunman who shot Mrs. Stern."

But Yvonne Stern's attorney, Chip Lewis, blasted defense attorney James Stafford and Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos.

"Jim Stafford threw a fit that this case was going to be dismissed, and Patsy Lykos pacified Mr. Stafford by agreeing to give his client 20 years today," Lewis said.

Veteran criminal attorney Kent Schaeffer says while neither side is satisfied, the plea deal saves everyone, especially the Sterns, a lot of potential for embarrassment.

"It's still going to cause a lot of embarrassment," Schaeffer said. "It's going to keep this case in the mind of the public for a long time to come. I'm not so sure that the jury wouldn't have come back and give a sentence of 20 years or maybe even less, because their might be some sort of sympathy for her, if they feel that Jeffery Stern got to walk away."

The plea deal came just a few days after prosecutors dropped all charges against Jeffrey Stern. Yvonne has stood by her husband the entire time.

The plea deal launched a war of words between Lewis and Lykos.

"To pacify Michelle Gaiser's lawyers she agreed to let Leitner and veteran prosecutors do what they saw was right, which was dismiss Mr. Stern's case, and in exchange to give Ms. Gaiser this laughable sentence of 20 years," Lewis said.

Lykos fired back with a statement in response that read in part, "Chip Lewis has once again demonstrated that he and the truth are strangers, and calumny is his constant companion. Defamation spews from his lips as naturally as breathing."

Originally Gaiser was set to plead guilty in exchange for a 25 year sentence and her testimony against her former lover, Jeffrey Stern. But earlier this week the DA's office dropped charges against him, citing insufficient evidence.

Assistant District Attorney Kari Allen issued the following statement:

    "With today's plea agreement, the Harris County District Attorney's Office has put a fourth person involved in attempts to murder Yvonne Stern behind bars. Combined, members of these conspiracies have been sentenced to a total of ninety-five years in prison.

    From the day she was arrested, Ms. Gaiser cooperated with investigators and prosecutors. Critically, she was our only source for the identity of the gunman who shot Mrs. Stern.

    A jury eventually gave that gunman a 20-year sentence. Ms. Gaiser is receiving an equally harsh 20 year sentence, as well as a conviction that will eventually result in her deportation."

Yvonne Stern's attorney says she has filed a civil lawsuit, saying she's hoping for justice in that, since she feels the criminal court did not prosecute this case to the fullest.

Three other people are already behind bars in the case, including the alleged gunman, Damian Flores. His first trial on attempted capital murder ended in a mistrial, but he was sent to prison for 20 years on an unrelated drug charge. Two other men -- James Lowery and Richard Gutierrez -- also pled guilty in the case. Each was sentenced to 15 years.


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