MANATEE — A man was acquitted Monday of hiring an inmate to kill his wife last year.
Stephen D. Keen, 30, was found not guilty of one count of solicitation to commit murder, a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour and a half before handing down the verdict.
Keen, who has addresses listed in Bradenton and Sarasota, was arrested last year after a Manatee County jail inmate wore a recording device and revealed Keen offered him $5,000 to kill his wife. He was in jail serving a 90-day sentence for violating a domestic violence injunction when the alleged murder-for-hire plot was revealed.
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When Keen was incarcerated, he was in the process of going through a divorce with his wife.
Keen, who testified in his own defense, said he was taken advantage of by other inmates. He told the court he vented to other inmates because he was trying to cope with an “extremely hostile environment.”
“All I cared about was that man (the other inmate) leaving me alone,” Keen testified during the more-than-five-day trial.
His lawyer, John Pangallo, told jurors during his closing argument that his client would never hurt his wife.
He said Keen had a grudge against his wife, but did not have the intent to kill her.
“Motive does not equal intent,” Pangallo said.
Keen had been in jail since his arrest last year.
On Monday, he walked away from the courthouse a free man.
During the trial, jurors listened to various audio recordings between Keen and an inmate.
Prosecutor Lauren Berns told jurors that 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. 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, Berns said.
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, according to testimony in court.
An inmate 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 to March 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 told the inmate.
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 left the marriage irretrievably broken.