Hire a hit man, lose the house: Calif. bill would ensure that murderous spouses don't profit

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The story behind the legislation reads like a movie pitch.

The wife of a Southern California police detective, distraught because she had lost custody of her children, tries to hire a hit man from the Vagos motorcycle gang to kill him.

Instead, gang members alert police, who disguise themselves as biker thugs and secretly tape a conversation with her, leading to the wife's arrest and ultimate conviction for solicitation of murder.

But later on, in divorce court, she is awarded half the couple's property, even though she tried to have her husband whacked. He then calls Sacramento, determined to change the divorce law.

A bill scheduled to be heard Tuesday in a state legislative committee seeks to close what its author says is a loophole in the state's no-fault divorce code. In part, the legislation will specify that spouses who solicit the murder of their husband or wife are not entitled to collect financial rewards in divorce proceedings.

The bill was prompted by John Pomroy, a police detective in Pomona, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles. His wife collected about $70,000 from their estate after she was released from prison in 2004.

"If you commit arson on your house, you don't get the insurance money. You go to prison and all sorts of things happen to you," Pomroy said in an interview. "But if you try to kill someone that is your spouse, the current law allows you to collect something."

State law says that if spouses are convicted of murdering or attempting to murder their husband or wife, they are not entitled to reap any financial benefits during divorce proceedings. But if they hire someone else to do the dirty deed for them, their victims' assets are not protected.

The bill would amend the law to include husbands or wives who solicit the murder of their spouse.

"It's just a glaring case where California law as it is now can reward someone who plans vicious murder," said Democratic Assemblyman Marty Block, who introduced the bill, AB2674. "In a way, the current law rewards the spouse for committing this kind of crime against the person they're married to or in the process of divorcing."

Divorce laws vary from state to state. In California, a couple's shared assets are generally split evenly during a divorce.

That's the case in most states, said Krystal Callaway Jaime, supervising attorney for the Family Protection Clinic at the University of California, Davis.

"This bill is very, very necessary," Jaime said. "It seems obscure, but this does happen more frequently than people realize."

After being married for a decade, Pomroy said his marriage dissolved when his wife became addicted to pain killers after injuring her foot in a dirt bike accident. She later turned to alcohol, and finally illegal drugs, he said.

He said they separated when she became physically abusive. He lived in the basement of the police department for a month after moving out of the couple's house and later gained custody of their children.

When his wife faced losing the children and her husband's monetary support, she solicited members of the Vagos motorcycle gang living down the street. She said she wanted them to kill her husband while he was on duty, Pomroy said.

"I think she felt like she had to hurry up and get rid of me, because she was going to lose our sons," Pomroy said.

The San Bernardino County district attorney's office said Pomroy's ex-wife pleaded guilty to soliciting others to murder her husband in early 2003.

An official at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla said Pomroy's ex-wife entered the prison in February 2003 and served time until she was paroled in March 2004. She was returned to prison twice since then and is currently on parole, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly but relayed the details of the woman's corrections department record.

Attempts to contact her were not successful.

Michael O'Brien, a Covina-based attorney who represented Pomroy's wife during the trial for solicitation of murder, agreed with the details of Pomroy's story.

But O'Brien said he doesn't believe Pomroy's wife was going to follow through with the murderous plot. He said she was broke, desperate and strung out after years of drug abuse, and couldn't afford to pay someone to kill Pomroy.

"She tried to steal a basket full of groceries for her family and got caught," he said. "She was at the end of her rope when these events took place."

During their separation, their house went into foreclosure and his wife said the cars were stolen, Pomroy said. His bank account, to which she had access, was drained. The only money he had left was in his pension account, and she was awarded half its value.

O'Brien said it was fair that Pomroy's wife got the money because she had supported him during the early years of their marriage by raising the children while he became a police officer.

But Pomroy, who still fears his ex-wife, disagreed.

"This Assembly bill is not going to award me anything retroactively; I'm not looking for that," he said. "I'm just trying to prevent some poor sap in the future who goes through this, to prevent him from losing his assets to somebody that's trying to kill him."

(This version CORRECTS name of district attorney's office in 18th graf to San Bernardino County, not Victorville.)