Ex-sheriff's deputy charged in plot to have family killed

As a King County sheriff's deputy, Bill Jensen patrolled the streets of North King County and guarded the courthouses on the Eastside to make sure that ugly domestic-violence cases didn't turn uglier.

During his 19 years as a cop, Jensen and his wife, Sue, once warranted a newspaper headline for helping an Australian policeman get a new prosthetic leg.

But about four years ago, a disability and chronic pain forced Jensen to retire. And about two years ago, his marriage went sour, and he became increasingly abusive and threatening, court documents allege.

Then earlier this month, while jailed for allegedly threatening to kill his wife, Jensen, 46, offered to pay a fellow inmate at least $150,000 to kill his wife, his two teenage children and his sister-in-law, all of Bellevue, to get even and to collect millions in inheritance, according to court documents filed yesterday.

Police say Jensen, of Newcastle, instructed an undercover policewoman, posing as a messenger to a hit man, to "clean house."

Yesterday, King County prosecutors charged Jensen with four counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder. Court documents say Jensen paid the hit-man-turned-informant $1,000 as a down payment and gave him written instructions on whom to kill and where to find them.

His arraignment is scheduled for next week; he remains jailed in lieu of $2 million bail.

"This was absolute greed and resentment," said Seattle police Detective Cloyd Steiger. "Had he found the right guy, they all might be dead now."

According to prosecution documents, Steiger first got wind of the plot last Wednesday, when an informant called him with a story about a man he knew only as a 300-pound, bespectacled prisoner in the King County Jail.

Jensen had offered to hire the fellow inmate to kill his wife, her sister and his 18-year-old daughter, the informant said.

"Jensen claims that his wife was worth $3 million, and so was her sister," Steiger wrote in his report. "It was after the informant pointed out that his daughter would likely inherit the estate that Jensen told the informant he had no qualms about having his daughter killed."

At first, according to court documents, Jensen asked that his 15-year-old son, who has learning disabilities, be left out of the plot.

When the informant was released from jail, Jensen sent him to meet Jensen's sister. She gave the informant $1,000, thinking he was from a bail-bond company, the documents say.

Steiger said he enlisted a policewoman to dress up like "Lisa," the informant's fictional roommate, and visit Jensen in jail. Saturday, the policewoman went to the jail, wearing a microphone.

Prosecutors charge that Jensen described his family and suggested they might all be home together at a specific time. When "Lisa" told Jensen that his son might be hurt in the assassination, Jensen replied: "Oh, well," prosecutors said.

"My suggestion is that you clean house," the charging documents say Jensen said on tape.

Jensen joined the Sheriff's Office in 1979 and served most of his career behind the wheel of a patrol car, said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Fagerstrom.

In the mid-1990s, Jensen told his bosses he needed lighter duty. They assigned him to work security at King County district courthouses. He claimed a disability and retired in the fall of 1999, collecting a partial pension. Before leaving the department, he spent 18 months on leave.

Fagerstrom declined to discuss Jensen's performance on the force. Jensen's personnel records, including any disciplinary history, were archived and not available yesterday.

In 1997, Jensen and his wife were featured in a Seattle Times story for helping to raise money for an Australian policeman who had lost a leg and needed a high-tech prosthesis.

But even then, the Jensens' marriage had been marred by reported threats and abuse, according to court documents and Sue Jensen's attorney, John Compatore of Seattle.

Sue Jensen first documented an allegation of abuse in 1985, Compatore said. But the threats and intimidation escalated when she filed for a divorce in March 2001.

In those court documents, Jensen's wife said he had abused her for years, including an attack while she was pregnant with the couple's daughter.

His wife tried counseling and mediation to repair her marriage, but she described her husband in court papers as depressed and addicted to painkillers and gambling.

In June 2001, Jensen allegedly threatened his wife's first divorce lawyer by making a slashing motion across his throat during a meeting. The next month, Jensen's wife got a restraining order, which was renewed a year later.

In January, Jensen began calling his wife in violation of the order, prosecutors allege. They say Jensen told his wife, "If I go to jail, you're going to your grave."

Prosecutors charged him with felony telephone harassment. He was released on bail.

Then in May, Jensen was arrested again, this time charged with harassing Compatore.

Court documents say Jensen threatened Compatore, slashed his tires and stole a key to his home.

This week, said Detective Steiger, he had to tell Jensen's wife that her husband was being charged in the murder plot. It was the first she had heard of it.

The worst part for her was learning she no longer was the only target, Compatore said.

"It's been so distressful for her to find out that her children are a target," Compatore said. "She's in a basket over this."

Ian Ith: 206-464-2109 or iith@seattletimes.com. Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com.