A Richland woman who police say helped mastermind a murder-for-hire plot targeting her ex-husband previously accused him of molesting their young daughter.
Heather Walbridge, 33, and John A. Feher, 49, were arrested March 19 in Yakima County for allegedly paying an undercover cop posing as a hit man to kill Benjamin Walbridge, 36.
They appeared Monday in Yakima County Superior Court, and bail was set at $100,000 for each. They are in custody on suspicion of solicitation to commit murder.
Heather Walbridge filed an order for protection in Benton County about four months before the arrests, claiming her 2 1/2 -year-old daughter had been molested and was experiencing a medical problem because if the alleged abuse, according to court documents.
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She called her ex-husband a “sexual deviant,” saying he has bizarre fetishes. The protection order was eventually denied for a lack of evidence.
She reported the allegations to the Clark County Sheriff’s Department in Vancouver, Wash., where Benjamin lives. Kennewick police were also notified, and the girl was interviewed.
The sheriff’s office looked into the allegations and chose not to refer the case to prosecutors, officials said. The investigation was closed.
Benjamin Walbridge did not respond to a message to talk about the plot to take his life.
Investigators with the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office got a tip on March 15 revealing the plot, police said. Text messages were discovered where the plot was discussed and telephone calls between Walbridge and Feher were recorded.
In the calls, Heather Walbridge and Feher detailed plans to kill Benjamin Walbridge and discussed how to carry out the murder, police said. They talked about finding a hit man.
Authorities set up a March 19 meeting between Heather Walbridge, Feher and the undercover cop. The meeting was recorded, and the undercover officer was pretending to be a hit man.
The suspects gave the officer a map to Benjamin Walbridge’s home and a diagram of the interior, police said. They also promised to provide a key and garage door opener to the house and asked that Benjamin Walbridge’s body not be found.
The officer was then given an undisclosed payment for the murder, police said. Walbridge and Feher were arrested after the meeting.
Heather and Benjamin Walbridge officially divorced in summer 2015, according to court documents. The couple was arguing over infidelity in the marriage.
Heather had filed an earlier order for protection in October 2014, claiming Benjamin pushed and grabbed her during an argument, court documents said. She wrote that he was living a double life, and she feared he was exploiting and harming their daughter, who was 17 months old then.
“I fear for my life. He has threatened my life,” Walbridge wrote in court documents. “He will kill me and take our daughter (overseas).”
That protection order was granted a month after it was filed, court documents show. Benjamin was ordered to have no contact with Heather and the daughter for a year.
The order was lifted in April 2015 after the couple went through mediation for the divorce and worked out a parenting plan, court documents show. Benjamin did not violate the order while it was in place.
The parenting plan called for Heather to have the majority of custody and Benjamin to get his daughter every other weekend.
During the hearing in Yakima on Monday, a judge decided not to release Walbridge and Feher, despite a recommendation from court staff in a pretrial program, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic.
The staff identifies defendants who can be released without bail before their trials, the newspaper said. They cited the suspects’ lack of felony criminal history as the reason for the recommendation.