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Murder-for-hire trial continues today

MANATEE — A man accused of hiring an inmate to murder his wife told jurors he was taken advantage of by other inmates last week in court.

The trial is expected to continue today for 30-year-old Stephen D. Keen, who was arrested last year, after an inmate wore a recording device and revealed Keen offered him $5,000 to kill his wife.

Keen was in jail serving a 90-day sentence for violating a domestic violence injunction when the murder-for-hire plot was revealed.

Keen and inmates from the jail testified in court Friday.

Detectives say Keen instructed the inmate to call a telephone number when he was released and a $2,500 down payment would be coordinated by another contact who did not have knowledge of the alleged plot, the arrest affidavit states. That contact would also provide the final $2,500 payment once the killer showed Keen his wife’s identification card.

Keen gave the inmate his wife’s name, her job address, her phone number and her church’s name, Faith Christian Church on Lorraine Road, to the inmate. He said they have two children and that she recently returned from a vacation in Kentucky.

The inmate was instructed to contact his wife, an interior decorator, and set up a decorating job he needed done. He was to tell her she came recommended by the pastor of Faith Christian Church, Scott Clark, according to testimony in court.

Keen made excuses for divulging each of the details.

“All I cared about was that man (the other inmate) leaving me alone,” Keen told the court.

The one thing he couldn’t explain was why he gave his wife’s phone number.

“I don’t have a good excuse. I’m not going to lie to you,” he said.

Inmates testified Friday that Keen did not know how to function in jail.

“He would talk way too much. He was way too friendly. You can’t be like that here,” said Jeremy L. Clark, an inmate who met Keen.

When Keen was first incarcerated, he was in the process of going through a divorce with his wife at the time.

He told the court he vented to other inmates.

“I was in an extremely hostile environment and I was trying to cope with it,” Keen said.

The inmate also told detectives Keen had solicited another inmate to do the job, but that inmate reportedly said he wanted nothing to do with the situation.

On the evenings of March 11-13, 2008, the informant, wearing a recording device, met with Keen in their cell block to outline the plan to kill his wife, the affidavit states.

Keen instructed the inmate to call his wife to set up a meeting for her to do some interior design work. The slaying was to look like it took place during a robbery, Keen allegedly told the inmate.

Portions of the recordings were played in court.

“I promise you. It will be done,” an inmate says.

“It has to be done when I’m out. It has to look like a robbery,” Keen said.

“That’s how it’s going to be done,” the inmate said.

In their final conversation March 13, Keen told the inmate the killing could not occur before he was released because he did not want his children placed in foster care, the report said.

In January 2008, Keen was sentenced to jail and a year of probation for violating a restraining order, according to court records. While at their children’s school, Keen drove by his wife’s car and threatened to kill her, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Keen was arrested a second time for violating the injunction in January 2008.

In that case, his wife said he threatened her as she left a courthouse elevator after a hearing they attended, according to court documents.

Keen’s wife filed for divorce in 2006. In court documents filed by her attorney, Peter Krotec, of Sarasota, she stated her husband’s actions have left the marriage irretrievably broken. In the filing, she also seeks child support for their two children.

Solicitation to commit murder is a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison.

— Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this report.