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'Circleville femme fatale' murder-for-hire conviction overturned

The conviction of the so-called "Circleville femme fatale' has been overturned by the Fourth District Court of Appeals. A Pickaway County jury convicted her last year of attempting to hire a hit man to murder the mother of her husband's children. She was sentenced to seven years in prison at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. She may be released as soon as this week.

The 34-year-old former model, now divorced, seemingly tried to hire the hit man in connection with a custody dispute. She was initially charged with trying to have both her stepchildren's mother and their stepfather killed, but was acquitted in regards to the stepfather.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, she gave a man $125 as down payment for the murder. He turned out to be an undercover detective and recorded the transaction on hidden cameras as she handed over the money in a Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot in Circleville.

Prosecutor failed to prove one of the elements of the crime

The Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that a major error by the prosecutor was primarily responsible for the conviction being overturned. For a conviction to be valid, the state has to prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, they didn't even specify facts to support one of the elements.

The judge found that, to support a conviction for conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, the state needed to prove that the "femme fatale" had contributed something, or taken some concrete step toward the murder besides paying a paltry $125. Without proving that, she might have been found guilty of another crime -- ordinary conspiracy to commit murder, for example. She could not, however, lawfully be found guilty of the crime she was charged with.

"She's not innocent. She's getting off on a technicality," stated her alleged victim, the mother of her now-ex-husband's children.

It's understandable for her to see it that way, but these are constitutional issues of fundamental fairness and due process -- not technicalities. The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process of law. The Sixth guarantees the defendant the right to confront all witnesses and evidence against her. The Fourteenth Amendment ensures those rights are provided by states. All three appear to have been in play here.

The appellate judge also pointed to the woman's trial attorney as partially responsible for the error. It was fundamental enough that any competent defense lawyer should have noticed the issue and objected at trial, but hers did not.

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