HOULTON, Maine – A Mars Hill man will serve 10 years in prison for trying to hire someone to kill his ex-wife – a solicitation that the woman heard for the first time during his sentencing on Wednesday.
Kari Bradstreet said she was shocked at how dispassionate Mark Stetson sounded as a fellow Aroostook County Jail inmate secretly recorded the conversation in early 2011 in which Stetson contrived to make Bradstreet’s death seem like a robbery gone wrong.
“It was very nonchalant, casual, like they were having coffee. It was very upsetting. It was chilling,” the 37-year-old Bridgewater woman said after Justice E. Allen Hunter issued his ruling at Aroostook County Superior Court. “Reading it and hearing it are two different things. I had read the transcript, but I had never heard the tape until today.”
Bradstreet agreed to speak publicly about the sentencing, which is why the Bangor Daily News is naming her.
In an expletive-laced discussion that consumed most of the 22-minute recording played in court, Stetson made very elaborate plans that the inmate noted on the back of a legal pad. Stetson, a truck driver who did contract work for the U.S. Postal Service, gave precise directions to Bradstreet’s home, told the man where he could find weapons and money that would augment the $500 murder fee, and bemoaned how Bradstreet had ruined his life.
Stetson said he wanted Bradstreet shot twice to ensure her death and told the man that it would be OK if Stetson’s autistic son got knocked out or “choked out” during the fake robbery. Stetson instructed the man to leave his son tied up at Bradstreet’s mother’s house after committing the murder.
“What if he gets violent?” the inmate asked Stetson.
“Beat him up,” Stetson answered.
The inmate, who cooperated with police, is not facing charges in connection with the conversation with Stetson.
Hunter sentenced the 43-year-old Stetson to 20 years in prison with all but 10 suspended on charges of solicitation of murder, solicitation of kidnapping and solicitation of robbery. The counts will be served concurrently.
Stetson was arrested on the solicitation charges in April 2011. He was in jail in connection with five incidents in which he was charged with committing domestic violence stalking, violation of a protective order and violation of conditions of release, among other things, for harassing Bradstreet. He pleaded guilty to the solicitation charges in January at Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou.
Defense attorney Luke Rossignol argued that a sentence of 2½- to eight years would have been more consistent with standards set by previous solicitation cases, especially given Stetson’s lack of a criminal record prior to his problems with his wife.
He sought to characterize Stetson’s solicitation crimes as 22 minutes of bad decisions, his prior arrests as aberrations to what had been a productive life.
Stetson served honorably with the U.S. Army for seven years, loves his son and had many amicable if not loving moments with his wife – some they shared in between his arrests, said Rossignol.
“There’s no question that this is about the worst thing he has ever done in his life,” Rossignol said of Stetson. “Some of their relationship was voluntary, happy …This is not all bad.”
Stetson, who has had some mental health issues, took responsibility for his actions in pleading guilty, spared his ex-wife a trial, and has never physically harmed her – all of which should lessen his sentence, Rossignol said.
Yet Bradstreet suffered psychological damage, years of living in fear of Stetson that could take more years to undo. Anger, jealousy, and frustration over a failed marriage and an inability to accept his wife’s decisions made Stetson’s threats worthy of a 10-year sentence, Hunter said.
“This was not a conversation engaged in by a couple of guys probably having too much beer at a bar,” Hunter said. “But rather this crime is one that was the product of reflection.”
“Mr. Stetson had a genuine desire to see Ms. Bradstreet murdered,” Hunter added.
Bradstreet agreed that Stetson could be just as he described himself during the sentencing.
“He has the capacity of being a great man. He has proven to be a good person – except for his lack of taking responsibility for his actions all throughout his life, in multiple situations,” Bradstreet said. “We had some great times. He can be a very caring person, but when he transitions – and it can happen at any time – he can be a totally different Mark.”
Bradstreet hopes the sentencing will help her to continue to heal. She thanked law enforcement workers for treating her “with the utmost respect” and hopes her speaking publicly Wednesday for the first time about her ordeal will help others to get out of abusive relationships.
“I am a survivor,” she said, “and I will continue to survive.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.