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Utah man sentenced to 7 years in prison for seeking hitman to kill parents of children he adopted

A Utah man has been sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for hiring a hitman to kill his adopted children's biological parents, officials announced last week. Christopher Pence had previously pleaded guilty to soliciting and paying for the murders of two people in upstate New York in 2021.

The 43-year-old had arranged for the killings through a site on the dark web that offered murder-for-hire services, the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's northern district said in a news release. The scheme never actually amounted to an attempt to murder either person. 

Months after Pence paid an administrator on the site $16,000 in Bitcoin to do the the job, authorities arrested him as a suspect by tracing the cryptocurrency transaction and Pence's dark web communications back to his residence in Cedar City, Utah — a 5,800-square-foot home sitting on 20 acres of land, court records show. Pence admitted that he hired someone to kill the intended victims when they took him into custody.

As an anonymous user on the "darknet" site, Pence "provided the site administrator with the names, address and photographs of the intended victims, as well as the manner in which the killing should take place," reads the criminal complaint that led to his arrest. It notes that Pence "advised that the killing should be made to look like an accident or a botched robbery" and asked the intended hitman not to harm any of the three children who were known to be in the victims' care.

Authorities said that interviews with Pence after his arrest revealed his possible motive for wanting those two people dead. When he tried to hire the hitman, Pence's family had legally adopted five of the victims' biological children and was in the midst of an escalating dispute with that family, as the victims sought to regain custody of the children, according to federal filings in his case. The intended victims had at that time also reported Pence's family to child welfare authorities, which angered him, the documents said, adding that Pence and the victims "did not agree on how the children should be raised or the personal choices and lifestyle of the intended victims."

The people targeted in Pence's failed murder-for-hire plot were residents of Hoosick Falls, a village near Albany. Their identities have been protected throughout the federal investigation and Pence's criminal trial.

Pence has remained in federal custody since his arrest in 2021, according to the U.S. Attorney in New York. In addition to the seven-year sentence decided last week, U.S. District Judge David Hurd recommended that Pence serve a three-year term of supervised release following his imprisonment. 

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