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Mental illness cited in murder-for-hire plot

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 12:05 a.m. CDT

ROCKFORD – Ahead of his sentencing Wednesday in federal court, the defense team for an Algonquin lawyer has filed documents saying he suffered from a mental disorder when he tried to have his fianceé’s ex killed.

Jason W. Smiekel faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. He pleaded guilty in April to solicitation of murder using interstate commerce.

The intended target not only was Smiekel’s fianceé’s former lover, but also Smiekel’s client.

Smiekel’s attorneys are not saying he was criminally insane, but that he committed the crime as a result of his mental illness “combined with ‘a perfect storm’ of severe, subjective mental stressors that will not recur.”

In court documents, defense attorney Ralph Meczyk tries to answer the question of why Smiekel would commit such a crime, especially when people who know Smiekel said the charges against him are “completely out of character.”

“He was not a sociopath, and had not lived a criminal lifestyle,” Meczyk said. “So what would propel him to commit murder-for-hire, with the target being a former client and former boyfriend of his paramour?”

Three experts found that Smiekel suffered from some variation of an anxiety disorder, although their opinions differed on the severity.

About the time the plotting began, Smiekel was in the midst of a divorce and child custody proceedings with his now ex-wife. In March 2011, he had an anxiety attack and was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

That summer, Smiekel had paranoid thoughts, Meczyk said. These included that his neighbors were spying on him and he was being watched when he left court.

“Smiekel even believed that the intended victim had planted STD medication in his girlfriend’s vehicle in an effort to sabotage their relationship,” Meczyk said.

Meczyk said that Smiekel’s disorders are treatable and suggested that alcohol treatment be part of his sentence.

Prosecutors have said in their court filings that they intend to seek the maximum 10-year sentence based on several factors, including that there were repeated attempts to have the intended victim killed and Smiekel’s “sheer callousness.”

“This defendant wanted someone dead – not only wanted that person dead, but was willing to pay thousands of dollars to an ATF special agent acting in an undercover role as a ‘hit-man.’ “ Assistant U.S. Attorney John G. McKenzie said. “Thus, with the exception of murder itself, the defendant’s crime is among the most serious offenses that can be committed.”

Smiekel was accused of seeking a hit man on at least three occasions. The first was through two men introduced by a friend. They took Smiekel’s $8,000 but never carried out the murder.

The second was a former client who owed Smiekel’s firm money, and the third ended up being an undercover agent for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

According to court documents, Smiekel said to the agent, “I got my job on the line, and he’s got dirt on me that could ruin my career.”

Smiekel agreed to pay $20,000 and turned over a total of $8,500 to the agent before being arrested in August 2011, authorities said.

Prosecutors speculated that Smiekel’s motive could have been to please his fianceé and “eliminate a disruption to what could be their happy life together” or that he feared being reported to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission over the relationship.

Or Smiekel could have been jealous.

“Murders have be committed for far lesser motives,” McKenzie said.

Smiekel’s law license has been suspended since November. He will lose it as a result of the conviction.

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