‘This is an egregious case’: Judge sentences Pelahatchie woman to 10 years in murder-for-hire plot
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A Pelahatchie woman who pleaded guilty to hiring a hitman to kill her now ex-husband will spend the next 10 years behind bars.
Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves sentenced Jessica Leeann Sledge to 120 months in federal prison, followed by three years supervised probation, and fined her $1,000.
Reeves cited author Byran Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, saying that “each person is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done. This is obviously a case of that, based on the letters and her criminal history.”
“But this is an egregious crime... Scheming to kill an individual is an extraordinary offense. Any sentence must reflect that this is indeed a serious offense.”
Sledge pleaded guilty in February to using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of a murder-for-hire. No murder ever took place and Sledge was eventually arrested by federal agents.
She declined to make a statement during her sentencing, allowing her written statement to the court to stand, and allowing her attorney to speak on her behalf.
Investigators determined that she used the dark web to hire a hitman, made three Bitcoin payments totaling $10,000 to the supposed hitman, and communicated with an undercover agent via a cell phone and WhatsApp, all of which was a violation of federal statute.
According to previous testimony, Sledge was attempting to murder her ex-husband, Jerry.
The two have gotten a divorce or are in the process of getting a divorce, according to comments made during Sledge’s sentencing.
The sentencing began around 9 a.m. but was recessed shortly for Judge Reeves to read some two dozen letters submitted on the defendant’s behalf.
Reeves said he took those letters, as well as the nature of the crime, into account when handing down the sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Fulcher recommended the court give the full 10-year sentence that was offered as part of a plea deal.
Sledge’s attorney, John Colette, asked for leniency, saying that his client was remorseful for her actions, and that she was a first-time offender, with a “zero chance of recidivism.”
Fulcher rebutted Colette’s claims, directing the judge to a transcript of Sledge speaking to the undercover agent who she believed to be the hitman. According to the presentence report, Sledge told the agent that there was potentially a second person she wanted to kill and that a different manner of death would be needed.
Fulcher also said that Sledge told the hitman she was in a two-year romantic relationship with another man and talked of marriage after the hit occurred.
“The premeditation of this... the efforts she went to plan this over time,” he said. “But for the fact the FBI introduced an [undercover] agent, Ms. Sledge knew [this murder] was going to take place.”
Colette, though, said there was no evidence that Sledge was going to kill a second victim, saying that his client was testing out the FBI agent.
“[The government] has played this ‘second victim card’ from the arraignment to today. There was never, ever, ever any second person. They had all this time. If there was a second person, there would be another charge and another person,” he said.
Colette said his client made a terrible mistake but she shouldn’t be locked up and thrown away for life.
Reeves, too, was troubled by the nature of the crime. “We do know that there were multiple calls with an undercover agent... Numerous calls, followup conversations [on] where to locate her husband, where he would be at a particular time, the method that ought to be used to execute the plan,” he said.
The judge also pointed out that there was never a point during Sledge’s conversations that she was scared or that she had second thoughts about going through with the killing.
“What we have here is a methodical plan to kill her husband,” he said. “All of that is very troubling to the court and the law itself.”
Reeves said the court would recommend that Sledge complete her sentence at the Federal Bureau of Prison’s women’s facility in Aliceville, Al.
The low-security prison is the closest women’s facility to the city of Jackson, the judge said. Once Sledge gets out of jail, she’ll be subject to three years of probation and will be required to pay a $1,000 fine and $100 special assessment. She also will not be allowed to contact the victim.
Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Copyright 2022 WLBT. All rights reserved.