LAKEWOOD, Ohio – An Ohio man hatched a plot to kill a woman he was in a home-ownership dispute with, authorities say, by approaching an emergency room patient at the renowned hospital where he worked as a nurse with the question, "Ever killed anyone?"
No, the Cleveland Clinic patient replied, but I once shot a man.
That was good enough, authorities say, for nurse Andrew Martin, 23, who allegedly tried to resolve the dispute by offering the patient $10,000 to kill the woman, who was never hurt.
Martin, of the town of Bristolville about 50 miles east of Cleveland, has pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 7 in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. His attorney, Edward LaRue, said "there's much more to come" in the case.
According to a federal affidavit that reads like a combination of real-estate law and backroom conspiracy, Martin somehow hooked up with a man named David Simons, who had done occasional carpentry work for an elderly man, George Warehime. How Martin and Simons met wasn't detailed.
Warehime died Dec. 4, 2010, at age 83 after years of decline. Doctors said he showed evidence of Alzheimer's disease. The administrator of his estate, sister Joy Comey, put his house up for sale and lined up a buyer.
She was stunned to visit the home Nov. 21, 2011, and find Martin and another man, David Simons. They claimed her brother had deeded the house to them nine months earlier without cost.
Getting the house could enrich the men. It is valued at $193,000 for tax purposes.
Comey, whose exact age is unclear, said her brother never mentioned giving up his home, on a tree-lined boulevard in a desirable neighborhood in Lakewood, minutes from Cleveland. Comey lived near him in the area blocks from Lake Erie and visited him frequently to care for him.
Comey called police, and a yearlong ownership fight began in probate court. A judge eventually sided with Comey and voided a backdated deed notarized under questionable circumstances.
Comey argued that the two men took advantage of her brother, who was found in 2009 to have memory loss and dementia. He couldn't hear well.
Simons claimed the deed to the house showed up in his mail box without explanation. His attorney quit in the middle of the probate case, fearful that his client was involved in fraud, court records said.
Martin is accused of using a cellphone to discuss the plot, and because the cellular network crosses states lines, he is being charged in federal court, instead of state court, with the murder-for-hire scheme.
Irritated that "this 70-year-old lady, she has been trying to mess up my life," Martin approached an ER patient who "looked like a big guy," according to the federal affidavit.
"Ever hurt anyone?" Martin allegedly asked the man, whose name wasn't disclosed.
"Yes, no, maybe," the ER patient responded cautiously.
Martin pressed ahead, according to the affidavit, asking, "Ever killed anyone?"
"I shot someone in the leg once," the patient responded.
Satisfied the man lived in a tough Cleveland neighborhood, Martin allegedly offered him $10,000 to kill Comey. Martin described her and her car and provided her address, prosecutors say.
When the patient tipped a police officer, Comey was alerted and went into hiding.
The threat caused her anguish, and "she was deeply disturbed, as one would expect," said her probate attorney, Franklin Hickman.
Calls to Comey's home went unanswered, and Hickman said he had advised her not to talk to reporters.
The Cleveland Clinic, a research hospital known for its nationally ranked heart care, suspended Martin without pay when he was arrested in November.
Martin was locked up without bail to await trial. Calls to a phone listed in his family name in Bristolville went unanswered.
LaRue, his attorney, said a picture of a hard-working young man would emerge at Martin's trial.
"He's been remarkably productive," he said. "He's been working ever since the age of 15. He's 23 now and has attained a certain degree of business acumen in the world, as well as a nursing license."
Simons could not be reached for comment. A bankruptcy court filing from last year showed he had debts of nearly $150,000; he wasn't charged in the alleged murder plot.
Last May, in the middle of the probate fight, Simons took out a $600,000 insurance policy on the house, according to the federal affidavit. Ten days later, an early morning fire later declared arson damaged the house, and the insurer rescinded the policy.
Local prosecutors declined to comment on any investigation involving suspected house fraud or arson.
There is little evidence of the fire at the spacious house, which remains boarded up and padlocked by the city.