Crime & Courts

Experts argue in Algonquin murder-for-hire case

ROCKFORD – Sentencing began Wednesday for an Algonquin attorney involved in a murder-for-hire plot, with experts disagreeing on whether he was able to control his actions.

Jason Smiekel, 30, pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder using interstate commerce and faces up to 10 years in prison.

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

The alleged motive cited by prosecutors was “dirt” Hegg had on Smiekel, but Smiekel’s attorneys have focused on his fear of Hegg – whether grounded in reality or not.

Prosecutors said Smiekel made several attempts to have Hegg killed, including soliciting a high school friend.

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.

Orest Wasyliw and Dia Boutwell, both forensic psychologists, agreed that Smiekel suffered from an anxiety disorder.

Wasyliw, who testified for the defense, said the disorder affected Smiekel’s ability to appreciate the criminality of his actions and control them.

He said Smiekel suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, which is characterized by extreme anxiety, excessive and overwhelming worries, and physical tension.

Smiekel had an extreme fearfulness with paranoia that primed him for a “fight or flight” response in which he would attack the source or escape.

While there were other stresses, including a divorce, child custody battle and an extortion attempt by one of the men he had solicited, Wasyliw said Smiekel’s biggest stress was Hegg, who Smiekel greatly feared.

“That fear was so intense that it basically controlled the direction of his thinking,” Wasyliw said. “His primary motivation was self-preservation and protection in any way he could think of.”

While Boutwell agreed with many of Wasyliw’s findings, she said she found that Smiekel did know his behavior was wrongful.

She cited Smiekel’s discussion of using throwaway phones, for example, and that he tended to minimize his plans to have an alibi.

U.S. District Court Judge Frederick J. Kapala at one point interjected in the questioning of Wasyliw and asked what reassurances Wasyliw could give to Hegg once Smiekel is out of prison and no longer on supervised release.

“What happens then?” the judge asked.

Wasyliw said he does not have the expertise to answer that question, although the circumstances surrounding Smiekel’s actions were unique.

The “extreme pressures” Smiekel faced – whether real or perceived – are no longer present and his actions were out of character, Wasyliw said.

But there is no way of telling what, for example, Smiekel’s ex-wife or his son will be doing in the future, Wasyliw said.

Anxiety disorders, however, are among the most treatable mental disorders and can be successfully treated, he said.

Another expert who testified for the defense, clinical psychiatrist Lisa Rone, said she has treated many people in a similar situation to Smiekel’s and that she believes he would be self-motivated to continue treatment.

“I feel very comfortable that he is a very minimal risk,” she said.

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

His law license has been suspended pending completion of the case against him.

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