Rockford judge delays sentencing in murder plot

ROCKFORD – The defense for an Algonquin attorney involved in a murder-for-hire plot was granted a continuance Wednesday so it can interview men who attorneys say back up the idea that their client was being extorted.

Jason Smiekel previously pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder using interstate commerce and faces up to 10 years in prison. He is not trying to withdraw the guilty plea, but wants to present the judge with information that could be factored in when the sentence is handed down Nov. 28.

The intended target was Smiekel’s fianceť’s ex, who also was Smiekel’s client at one point.

Defense attorney Ralph Meczyk said that on Tuesday afternoon, the day before the scheduled sentencing, prosecutors sent him a report of an August interview with one of the men Smiekel solicited.

The man had been a high school friend of Smiekel’s, but the defense had not been able to locate him, Meczyk said.

Meczyk said that Smiekel had solicited one of the men to “scare” the victim for money, but that man brought in another man, and they eventually extorted Smiekel for about $10,000. †

That goes to Smiekel’s state of mind at the time, and an interview with the first man would corroborate the extortion, Meczyk said.

“He’s absolutely mentally tormented and pays them to leave him alone,” Meczyk said.

Smiekel’s attorneys are not arguing that he was legally insane at the time, but that he had “diminished capacity.”

According to court documents, at least three experts determined that Smiekel had some sort of mental disorder tied to anxiety, although they disagreed on the severity.

It had started with Smiekel’s divorce and child custody proceedings with his now ex-wife, Meczyk said. Then there were threats – real or imagined – from the intended victim, followed by extortion from the men he solicited, all of which added to his paranoia.

“This supports what Mr. Smiekel has been saying all along, that he felt intimidated by a number of people,” Meczyk said. “That’s what set this in motion.”

But Assistant U.S. Attorney John McKenzie said that it was all information that the defense already had, and also further evidence of Smiekel’s criminal acts.

Prosecutors have said that Smiekel’s motivation for trying to hire a hit man was that the intended target had “dirt” that could ruin Smiekel’s career. They also offered jealousy as a possible motive.

Smiekel’s solicitation of the high school friend was one of several attempts that prosecutors said Smiekel made to have the intended victim killed.

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

Smiekel has been in custody at the Boone County Jail since he was arrested in August 2011.

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