Early on in the murder for hire prosecution of Debra Arno, it was clear her history of mental illness would play a factor in the case.
On Monday, Arno, 57, pleaded guilty to a different charge - solicitation of interstate murder for hire - and will face a recommended sentence of five years in prison.
Arno's guilty plea ends a case that began with allegations that she and a Kenmore woman, Lauren Frye, orchestrated a murder plot targeting Arno's ex-husband, his new wife and their young daughter.
"I don't think this was a knowing or intentional situation," Paul J. Cambria Jr., Arno's defense attorney, said Monday. "I think it's clear her thinking at the time was not clear and that should be taken into consideration."
Cambria plans to point to Arno's mental health in arguing for a sentence of less than five years in prison.
Frye, 56, also admitted guilt as part of an agreement in which she pleaded to a weapons charge and will face a recommended sentence of up to 18 months in prison.
At the heart of the prosecution was the allegation that Arno offered to pay Frye $20,000 to carry out the killings, a claim bolstered by evidence found at Frye's Elmwood Avenue apartment last year. That evidence included photos of the intended victims, a diagram of their home and a schedule of their comings and goings.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Tripi said the case began in May of last year with a tip to Kenmore Police, who then identified the targets of the murder-for-hire plot.
Arno and Frye were arrested a short time later and, within days, a federal judge was raising questions about Arno's competency.
U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. ordered Arno detained and questioned her lawyers about her mental health and, more specifically, an accident years ago that might have affected her “cognitive functions.”
"There was significant psychological evaluation," Cambria said of Arno on Monday.
In the end, Arno admitted to soliciting Frye's involvement in the plot and offering to pay her money, but the initial charge of murder for hire was dropped.
Frye, who has a previous felony drug conviction, pleaded guilty Friday to being a felon in possession of a firearm. When police searched her apartment last year, they found three unloaded shotguns.
Frye, who according to court documents acknowledged having a relationship with Arno, is scheduled to be sentenced in March but may request an earlier date given her time in custody – just one month short of the 18-month maximum recommended sentence.