Lawyer accused in murder-for-hire plot surrenders

February 1, 2011 3:40:21 PM PST
A Bellaire attorney accused of being the mastermind of an alleged murder-for-hire plot to kill his wife is now in custody.

Jeffrey Stern turned himself in around 9am at the HPD headquarters in downtown Houston. He was accompanied by his wife, Yvonne Stern, and his attorney. The couple was holding hands. They were very affectionate in public, all this despite the accusations against her husband. Jeffrey Stern is accused of paying to have his wife murdered. He has been indicted on two counts of solicitation of capital murder.

Stern's attorney spoke for the couple.

"Let me be perfectly clear, Jeff Stern is innocent of these charges. He had absolutely nothing to do with the vicious plot to kill, Yvonne, his wife of nearly 20 years," said Stern's attorney, Paul Nugent. "The only thing Jeff is guilty of is to having had a marital transgression. He's apologized to his family. He surely regrets the affair. But he had nothing to do with this plot."

Stern's former lover is in jail, and his wife -- who is the target of the alleged murder-for-hire plot -- is supporting him.

Even as she sits inside the Harris County Jail, Michelle Gaiser knows the latest developments. Her sister filled her in on Monday evening on the indictments against her former lover and boss Jeffrey Stern. Gaiser, we've learned, testified recently before a Harris County Grand Jury.

The complex case of a wealthy Bellaire lawyer accused of trying to get someone to kill his wife already has veteran court watchers surprised. But the sight of Stern's wife holding hands and hugging her indicted husband at the Houston Police Department shocked even the most seasoned defense attorneys.

"The fact that the complainant, the so-called victim, is supporting the man accused of arranging her death -- that's more rare than the Texans winning the Super Bowl. I've never heard of that happening," said defense attorney Dan Cogdell.

And that, says Cogdell, might be Jeffrey Stern's best defense.

"It's a defense lawyer's dream is what this is -- to have the complainant walk hand-in-hand with a charged defendant," Cogdell said.

Gaiser, others charged in plot

Last year, we introduced you to Freddie Romero. He helped a bleeding Yvonne Stern after she had been shot in the stomach at the apartment complex where she and her family were temporarily living.

"When I seen the lady get out of her car, bent down saying you know, 'I was shot,'" Freddie Romero said.

Authorities believe it was the third attempt in May and June on her life. Two previous ones happened at the family's Bellaire home.

Gaiser was the first arrested for solicitation of capital murder. Prosecutors say she was offering $10,000. Also charged are four other men who authorities say were hired to carry out the crime.

"There are many others involved," Prosecutor Kari Allen said in June.

All along, Jeffrey Stern's attorney denied his involvement. Now a grand jury believes otherwise.

Two indictments unsealed Monday accuse the successful personal injury lawyer of soliciting Gaiser to arrange the murder of his wife. Last June, Yvonne Stern cited adultery in divorce proceedings and Jeffrey Stern agreed he wouldn't transfer anything of value to anyone with whom he had an intimate or dating relationship.

Gaiser has been in jail ever since.

In August, according to court documents, the divorce was put on hold. And now, an attorney for Yvonne Stern and the couple's two teenage children released a written statement saying:

"On behalf of her family, Mrs. Stern would like everyone to respect their privacy as this matter unfolds. Mrs. Stern and her family continue to firmly believe in their father's innocence and will stand beside him throughout this process. Mrs. Stern and her family will not make any other statements, so please respect their privacy and do not attempt to contact them."

The Sterns have been married for about 20 years and have three homes, including two in Aspen, Colorado.

Jeffrey Stern's bond has been set for a total of $1 million. If convicted, the punishment would range from five to 99 years or life in prison, and fine of up to $10,000.