FBI: Woman accused of hiring a hitman to kill her husband allegedly eyed second victim
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - More details are emerging in the case of a Pelahatchie woman accused of attempting to hire a hitman to kill her husband.
On Monday, federal Magistrate Keith Ball denied bond for Jessica Leeann Sledge, who is being charged with using interstate commerce facilities in seeking to hire a hitman.
Sledge was arrested last week after a month’s long investigation revealed she used the dark web to procure the service.
Meanwhile, at a hearing Monday, an FBI agent who investigated the case told the court that Sledge discussed killing a second person with undercover agents and that a man she was said to be having an affair with attempted to delete incriminating evidence from Sledge’s computer.
That man, identified as Ollie Cliburn, also was said to have helped pay Sledge’s legal costs.
“There’s the initial retainer... he did assist with that,” said Sledge’s mother, Sandy Myers.
Jackson agents were informed of the potential murder-for-hire more than a month ago. They were tipped off by the Knoxville FBI.
“They sent us webchat from the dark web. We conducted an investigation and learned of the person (targeted) to be killed and put together an investigation from there,” said Justin Schmidt, a special agent in Jackson.
The webchat shows that Sledge had initially hoped a hitman would stage an auto accident to kill her husband, Jerry Sledge.
Court documents show Sledge allegedly paid someone on the dark web $10,000 in Bitcoin to commit the murder.
“The person she spoke to on the dark web asked if $10,000 in Bitcoin was (an) agreeable amount,” Schmidt said.
Sledge made three payments, informed her contact on the dark web that the payments had been processed, and told her contact to “proceed with the job.”
The FBI found Sledge’s cell phone number and contacted her, asking for the same user ID that she used on her dark web browser account.
The defendant allegedly downloaded Tor, a browser that allows users to access the dark web, to her work computer.
Sledge’s username was “Forward Only.”
“The undercover agent called her and asked for Forward Only and she said it was her,” Schmidt said. “Her chat name on WhatsApp also was Forward Only.”
Court documents indicate that Sledge used WhatsApp to provide agents with “multiple photos” to help them identify her husband.
After several online chats, Sledge eventually met with an agent on November 1, at the Brandon Home Depot.
Sledge met with one agent while two others monitored the situation.
“He asked for an expense payment and she (went out) to her car, came back in, and paid (the agent) $1,000,” Schmidt said.
He testified that Sledge told the agent she would be interested in taking out someone else.
Her next victim? “A female who couldn’t keep her mind on her own business.”
Sledge was arrested that same day at EZ Wheels, a lawn and tractor dealer in Pelahatchie, where she works.
“A Rankin County task force officer went along with us. We went into the place of business, and the Rankin County officer asked for Sledge,” he recalled. “We asked if she would come outside with us.”
Agents questioned Sledge about her husband, asking if anyone wanted to hurt him, and if he had any large outstanding debts, and when she last spoke to him.
Schmidt said authorities told her that her husband was dead.
When told the news of her husband’s supposed death, Schmidt say Sledge started to cry and told agents she needed to sit down.
Sledge was then handcuffed and arrested and confessed to the scheme after being confronted with evidence.
“She kind of told me about Tor. I asked Ms. Sledge about it in the interview. She explained it to me as a web browser... she downloaded to her work computer,” Schmidt said. “She didn’t (recall) how she searched for a hitman.”
Sledge’s employer gave the FBI permission to search the computer and Sledge provided the password.
A computer expert was sent in to review the computer, “and during the process noticed things were deleted off the computer days after she was arrested.”
Schmidt said agents were notified that a person named Ollie Cliburn had remote access to the computer and that in WhatsApp messages, Sledge asked Ollie whether she should delete Tor.
Attorney John Colette asked for leniency, recommending that Sledge be allowed to live with her parents in Hinds County.
He said she would be willing to comply with a curfew, avoid computers and wear an ankle monitoring device.
Colette told the court that Sledge suffers from severe migraines, as well as an autoimmune disorder that requires her to receive weekly injections.
He said she would not be able to get that shot if she were remanded to Madison County Jail.
As for whether Sledge would be a flight risk, Myers said Sledge had an expired passport and was not sure of her daughter’s financial resources.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Fulcher asked how Sledge was able to obtain private counsel.
Myers said Cliburn had contributed to it.
As for whether Sledge should have been released, Fulcher said that she was a danger to society.
“This is a crime of violence, a sophisticated murder-for-hire scheme,” he said. “She poses a danger to at least one person... possibly another person in her own community.”
Colette said Sledge had no prior criminal history. “This is not a person who has ever committed a crime in her life,” he said.
Ball said he had to weigh several factors in determining Sledge’s fate. “The bottom line is the evidence is heavy the defendant did hire a hitman to murder her husband,” he said. “During the course of the undercover investigation (she) indicated (there) maybe someone else she (intended to murder). That is particularly troubling.”
We have reached out to Jerry Sledge and have not gotten a callback.
A spokesman for EZ Wheels said his company had nothing to do with the incident and has cooperated fully with authorities.
Digital Reporter Josh Carter contributed to this story.
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