A judge sentenced a former state Department of Financial Institutions employee to just over 33 years in prison Tuesday for offering a former colleague $10,000 to kill his estranged wife, and then embarking on a second murder-for-hire plot while behind bars last year.
Brian Cox's second murder-for-hire plot was hatched from the Thurston County Jail, when he offered a former cellmate money to kill his former DFI colleague Ray Lopez-Ortiz. Lopez-Ortiz wore a body wire and a hidden camera at the request of police to record a June conversation with Cox at DFI headquarters in Tumwater.
Lopez-Ortiz told his superiors at work that Cox had approached him as they rode in a DFI elevator in April and told him that he would pay him half of his his wife's $200,000 life insurance policy "if I made his wife disappear," according to testimony during Cox's trial.
Cox's superiors told law enforcement about the threat, and at the request of Tuwmater police Lopez-Ortiz wore the camera and body wire to record Cox's subsequent efforts to have Lopez-Ortiz find someone to have his wife killed.
"I still want that (expletive) dead," Cox told Lopez-Ortiz during the recorded conversation that was played for the jury during Lopez-Ortiz's February trial before Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor. "...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 told Lopez-Ortiz during the recorded conversation."
In court Tuesday prior to Cox's sentencing, Lopez-Ortiz told the jury of his fear for his own safety, and the safety of his wife and child after learning that Cox tried to hire an inmate to kill him after learning he had gone to police.
"Brian Cox is not a monster," Lopez-Ortiz said in court. "He is somebody that did something very bad."
Cox, 44, was in the midst of a contentious divorce from his wife at the time he approached Lopez-Ortiz about having his wife killed. 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, court papers state.
During the recorded conversations between Cox and Lopez-Ortiz that were played for the jury, Lopez-Ortiz asked him repeatedly whether he was serious, or whether he was joking about his willingness to have his wife killed.
Thurston County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Craig Juris said outside court that Lopez-Ortiz was giving Cox an opportunity to back out of the crime at that point, but "it was Mr. Cox who moved things forward."
Lopez-Ortiz said he has become a "pariah" at work for what he has done. He added that he has had to sell his home for below its market value because he and his family no longer feel safe there.
"My heart aches for his father, and for his son," Lopez-Ortiz said of Cox. "They might hate me but I want them to know that my heart aches for them."
Cox's father, John Cox, was in court glaring and mouthing swear words at Lopez-Ortiz and Brian Cox's wife during Tuesday's sentencing, under the close watch of corrections officers charged with keeping the peace in the courtroom.
During Cox's trial, the jury convicted him of two counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder and one count of violating a protection order for earlier having contact with his estranged wife.
Cox's attorney, Paul Strophy argued for an exceptional sentence below the standard range, arguing that although Cox initially brought the matter of killing his wife up to Lopez-Ortiz, Cox would not have followed up on it, but did because Lopez-Ortiz presented him with the opportunity to do so.
"There is no evidence to suggest he was actively trying to hire anyone else," Strophy said. "Ultimately we have two acts that realistically never had any chance of being committed."
Before sentencing Cox, Tabor said he found the facts of the case chilling and surreal, but pointed out to Cox that "the jury found that indeed this was real. You did solicit to have two people killed."
Tabor wound up sentencing Cox to the midpoint of the standard sentencing range for one count of solicitation to commit first-degree murder, and the low-end of the range for the other. Under state law, sentences for multiple offenses like solicitation to commit first-degree murder must run consecutively, and cannot run concurrent.
Cox spoke briefly prior to being sentenced. He did not apologize for his actions, but talked about the good things he has done in life, such as protecting consumers in his job, teaching teens how to fly planes and donating to charity. he also asked the court "to have mercy on my soul."
"I still believe that I am an honest, good, ethical person," Cox told the court.
Cox's wife was present in the courtroom Tuesday, but was overcome by emotion and began to cry when she was asked if she wanted to address the court prior to Cox's sentencing. She left the courtroom at that point, and a victim's advocate read her statement.
In the written statement, Cox's wife said she is no longer trusting of others. She also expressed her continuing fears for her safety after learning that her husband wanted to hire someone to kill her.
"At this point, Brian has nothing to lose and I have fear for the safety of myself and my family," the victim's advocate said, reading from her statement. "...I wish this on no one."
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445; email@example.com