Jurors hear recordings in state employee's alleged murder-for-hire plot

Staff writerFebruary 12, 2014 

Brian Cox

BY JEREMY PAWLOSKI

Jurors watched and listened Wednesday to a recording of former state Department of Financial Institutions employee Brian Cox as he allegedly offered a former colleague $10,000 to kill Cox's estranged wife.

Cox's colleague at DFI, Ray Lopez-Ortiz, wore a body wire and a small hidden camera as he secretly recorded the conversation at DFI in June. The recording was played for the jury Wednesday during Cox's trial for two counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder.

"I still want that (expletive) dead," Cox told Lopez-Ortiz during the recorded conversation that was played in Thurston County Superior Court Gary Tabor's courtroom. "...We're talking about murder man. You can find someone?"

During the recorded conversation, Cox said he could no longer pay Lopez-Ortiz the larger sum they had previously agreed upon, because he believed his wife may have removed him as the beneficiary of her life-insurance policy.

"It's still worth ten grand to me," Cox said during the recording.

Cox, 44, was in the midst of a contentious divorce from his wife at the time. Property at issue between the pair included Cox's 1959 Cessna airplane, a gun collection, a home in Boise, Idaho, five motorcycles and a time share, court papers state. Court filings in the divorce proceedings included mutual restraining orders requiring the pair to stay away from one another.

Cox's attorney, Paul Strophy, said during his opening statement that Cox was not serious during his recorded conversations with Lopez-Ortiz, and Cox did not want him to arrange to have his wife murdered.

"If he did say something along these lines, he was joking, he wasn't serious," Strophy told the jury. Strophy conceded during his opening statement that his client would be heard on tape saying he wants his wife dead.

"In his mind, he never tried to hire him, he never offered to pay him," Strophy said.

Strophy added that "this was a terrible divorce and it had a terrible impact on him."

Lopez-Ortiz's testimony took up much of the trial on Wednesday afternoon. Under direct examination by Thurston County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Craig Juris, Lopez-Ortiz explained how Cox first approached him as the two rode together alone in a DFI elevator in late April. Lopez-Ortiz said Cox told him that he would pay him half of his wife's $200,000 life insurance policy "if I made his wife disappear."

Lopez-Ortiz said he responded by telling Cox he couldn't kill his wife himself, but he knew someone who could because of his contacts in the U.S. Army Special Forces. Lopez-Ortiz said he didn't initially tell anyone what Cox had said, but the conversation ate at him. He said he finally told a supervisor at DFI because "I just didn't want the burden on me if something were to happen."

Lopez-Ortiz testified that he believed Cox was serious during the first conversation they had in the DFI elevator in late April.

"I heard the anger in his voice and I realized he was being real about it," Lopez-Ortiz said.

After Lopez-Ortiz's disclosure, DFI officials told the Washington State Patrol about Cox's alleged threat, according to testimony Wednesday by Lopez-Ortiz's superiors there. The case was turned over to the Tumwater Police Department, because that is where DFI's offices are located.

Lopez-Ortiz first agreed to let Tumwater Police Detective Jen Kolb record a telephone conversation between Cox and Lopez-Ortiz. The May, 2013 telephone conversation also was played for the jury Wednesday.

During the May, 2013 telephone conversation, Lopez-Ortiz asks Cox if Cox was "serious or were you joking around?" during the April elevator conversation. Cox laughs on the recording, and asks Lopez-Ortiz if he is "recording this right now?"

"Are you trying to set me up or something?" Cox asks.

Lopez-Ortiz responded that he was not recording the conversation. After Lopez-Ortiz assured Cox that he is in debt and needs the money, Cox told Lopez-Ortiz that his agreement to follow through on the plan "makes me happy." Cox also told him "I am willing to go into debt for you to do this for me."

During the May phone conversation, the pair agree to meet at DFI headquarters to discuss the matter further. That is the June face-to-face conversation that was recorded by Lopez-Ortiz.

Cox's second count of solicitation to commit first-degree murder is for allegedly offering a cellmate at the Thurston County Jail money to kill Lopez-Ortiz. Strophy said Wednesday that the former cellmate was trying to set Cox up in order to try and get a better deal from prosecutors in his own criminal case.

Cox's trial will continue Thursday in Thurston County Superior Court.

 

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445 jpawloski@theolympian.com

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