LOCKPORT - Benito Lendof-Gonzalez had a month to figure out how to beat a charge of assaulting his wife.
While sitting in the Niagara County Jail, Lendof-Gonzalez allegedly decided that his wife needed to die, but it needed to look like a suicide by poison.
The Town of Lockport man even wrote a suicide note for his wife, declaring that he was innocent of the domestic assault charges.
"I want to confess that I made a crime against my husband," the note was to read. "I declare that he is innocent of the charges he is facing. ... He never touched me. I hit myself with a wall and I put a knife to my throat. He is innocent and a good father, and I want him released for our kids."
He also came up with some instructions for the man he allegedly chose to carry out the plan, a former fellow jail inmate.
But what Lendof-Gonzalez didn't know was that the former inmate had become an informant for the Niagara County Sheriff's Office, and that the informant had a small digital recorder hidden in his pocket during their meeting to talk about the plan.
The recording was played in State Supreme Court last week.
Lendof-Gonzalez, 34, a Dominican Republic citizen living in the U.S. on a green card, has been indicted on multiple counts of attempted murder.
Niagara County prosecutors say that not only did Lendof-Gonzalez seek to hire a hit man to kill his wife, he also sought someone to kill his mother-in-law and a corrections officer. The latter killing was supposed to occur while the officer was transporting him to court, allowing Lendof-Gonzalez to escape.
None of the attacks ever was carried out.
The primary evidence against Lendof-Gonzalez is a batch of recordings.
Besides the recorded meeting with the informant, there are several recorded telephone calls from the Niagara County Jail, in which Lendof-Gonzalez allegedly tried to set up the killings. He did so even though a warning sign posted near the phones says that all calls are recorded.
In other calls, Lendof-Gonzalez allegedly sought updates on the progress of his plans.
Defense attorney George V.C. Muscato said in court that the speaker on the recordings does not identify himself as Lendof-Gonzalez.
Sheriff's Office Investigator Stephen W. Gaydos testified that he worked with the informant, whose name has not been disclosed and is referred to in court as "Witness JG001."
The recording of the informant's May 19 meeting with Lendof-Gonzalez is of poor audio quality. Gaydos said it was electronically enhanced by an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The informant, whose voice is far more audible than Lendof-Gonzalez's, apparently was handed the text of the statement Lendof-Gonzalez had written for his wife.
"Oh, this is a suicide letter," the informant said before reading it aloud.
The informant also read the instructions aloud.
"I want you to record this on her phone. It has to be made to look like she is confessing the crime," Lendof-Gonzalez allegedly wrote.
He wanted his wife poisoned.
"Do you have any idea of any stuff that would work?" the informant asked.
Lendof-Gonzalez's reply was unintelligible, and it was unclear how the killer was to administer the fatal dose.
But the informant told Lendof-Gonzalez, "She's going to be dead before you go to court."
On April 21, 2016, Lendof-Gonzalez was charged with holding his wife captive, choking her, putting a knife to her throat and making threats of a murder-suicide. In May, he pleaded not guilty to indictments charging him with strangulation, kidnapping, criminal contempt and unlawful imprisonment. At the time of the recorded conversation with the informant, Lendof-Gonzalez's next scheduled court date was June 8.
In December, Lendof-Gonzalez rammed his head into the wall of his jail cell and since then has been appearing in court wearing a neck brace. Psychologists interviewed him and concluded he was mentally competent to stand trial. Jury selection is set for July 17.