Produced by Lisa Freed and Lauren Clark
[This story previously aired on Dec. 15, 2018. It was updated on June 1, 2019.]
"My neck's bleeding," Tiffany Mead told a 911 dispatcher from her car late on July 23, 2013. "I tried to commit suicide. Please help me."
"I knew she was in really bad shape," first responder Jason Sorenson tells "48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty. "It was a really severe wound ... It was straight across her neck. All the way across."
Dr. Sheila Garvey, the Ogden Regional Hospital emergency room doctor who treated Mead, was also struck by the severity of the wound, noting most self-inflicted stab wounds are not as bad. "She was critical when she came in," Garvey says. "She just about cut off her head…There was no way she could have done that to herself and not that deep."
So severe was the cut, police responding to the scene also questioned whether it really was a suicide attempt.
"The blood all over the car was just, it was unbelievable," says Sgt. Bob Thompson. "I'm looking at this and I'm like, "There's no way that somebody's gonna be able to survive this. ... I'm thinking ... what am I lookin' at here?"
Just after midnight on July 24, 2013, Sgt. Bob Thompson arrived at the scene where Tiffany Mead had been found with her throat cut.
Erin Moriarty: And what did you know at that point?
Sgt. Bob Thompson: Absolutely nothing.
Tiffany had already been rushed to the hospital, but before she left, she changed her story — telling deputies that it was actually her estranged husband, Kris Ertmann, who attacked her.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: She told Deputy Sorensen ... "Keep him away from me. ... He did this to me. And "save my baby."
Erin Moriarty: If she's called this in as a suicide, and now she's saying, "He really did this," you don't know what to believe at that moment, right?
Sgt. Bob Thompson: It's a bit of a conundrum.
Tiffany's car was at the scene, but Thompson noticed something didn't look quite right.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: There was blood on the outside of the door. And I'm thinkin', "How did that blood get there?"
The detective learned Tiffany and her husband had first met up at a secluded park a mile away, where investigators found a second scene.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: I could see the blood … So now I know, "OK, this must have happened outside of the car."
Erin Moriarty: And before she started driving.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: Right.
Erin Moriarty: …if this woman tried to cut herself and she's clearly injured, to get in a car and drive — did that make sense?
Sgt. Bob Thompson: Didn't make sense at all.
Thompson still wasn't sure what kind of crime he was dealing with — if any.
Erin Moriarty: Do you know whether it's an attempted suicide, an actual suicide, attempted murder or a murder?
Sgt. Bob Thompson: I have no idea.
He didn't know Tiffany's condition. However, there was someone in custody: Kris Ertmann.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: He hadn't been officially arrested, but … he was not free to leave.
Ertmann was photographed and his clothes were taken as evidence. And then, Thompson wanted to hear what he had to say:
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: Why are you here tonight?
KRIS ERTMANN: Well, she — tried to commit suicide and I helped her out and her – and – and basically help her out, I tried to save her. I assisted in saving her.
Thompson learned that Ertmann worked for a painting contractor. He and his wife had been married five years and had two children, 2-year-old Noah and Wyatt who was almost 4. The couple was divorcing and had met that night so Ertmann could give her a child support check.
KRIS ERTMANN: We exchanged a few words and I don't know how she did — being able to put a knife to her throat, and —
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: OK.
KRIS ERTMANN: ... she's trying to say I slit her throat.
According to Ertmann, Tiffany was taking antidepressants:
KRIS ERTMANN: She has a history of being s — suicidal.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: people don't commit suicide that way. …And especially for a mother to do it in front of her child … didn't make sense to me.
And neither did Ertmann's oddly calm demeanor.
Erin Moriarty: Was he concerned about his – his estranged wife?
Sgt. Bob Thompson: Uh, no. …He didn't ask once how she was doing, and he never asked where his child was.
But what Thompson wanted most from Ertmann were details about what led to his wife's horrific injuries:
KRIS ERTMANN: That part — well, I don't remember it, but if you don't mind, I kinda really don't want to talk about it anymore.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: Why wouldn't you remember? It just happened a few hours ago. …And he can't remember any details?
Erin Moriarty: And what's going through your head?
Sgt. Bob Thompson: That he did this.
Ertmann was arrested and charged with attempted murder — attempted because somehow, despite the devastating injuries, Tiffany Mead survived.
Erin Moriarty: Show me where he cut you.
Tiffany Mead: He started over here [holding her finger to the left side of her neck and dragging it across] ... He went straight acrossed [sic], and he stopped right before my artery on this side.
It's been more than five years, but Tiffany is permanently scarred.
Erin Moriarty: Every time you look in the mirror, are you reminded of that night?
Tiffany Mead [nods to affirm]: I avoid looking in the mirror as much as possible.
Lt. Jen Daley: You know, this girl is strong. She is strong, Erin.
At the time, Lt. Jen Daley was Bob Thompson's partner on this case and his boss. She vividly remembers arriving at the hospital to get a statement from the 22-year-old who was in critical condition.
Lt. Jen Daley: I will never forget. I can still see her laying in that hospital bed. …I'm looking at that wound and the whole time I'm thinking … "How?"
Tiffany told Daley she had only agreed to meet her estranged husband because he promised to bring that child support check. Their relationship was now so toxic, they mostly communicated by text.
Tiffany Mead: He told me not to bring anyone. He kept reminding me to come alone. Come alone.
Tiffany texted that she would have to bring 2-year-old Noah. At the last minute, Ertmann picked an out- of-the-way park to meet. They parked — an empty space between their vehicles — and walked towards each other.
Tiffany Mead: I was terrified. …He had this look. He was so determined coming at me. I didn't know what he was gonna do.
She says suddenly Ertmann grabbed her in a bear hug and backed her up against her car door.
Tiffany Mead: And he had one hand on my mouth. And he pulled something out of his pocket. …And he slit my throat. And as he's slitting my throat, h — he says, "Shh, don't scream. Stay calm." And I didn't scream … And I told him I was getting dizzy. So he opened my car door for me so that I could sit.
Tiffany Mead: And he said, "You know what I want." … "Say it." So I said, "I love you, and I'll get back with you." …And then he said, "Seal it with a kiss." And he leaned in, and he kissed me as blood's pouring out of my neck.
Tiffany Mead: Then he said that we needed to come up with a story if I was gonna call 911. … So I said, "OK, I'll tell 'em whatever you want me to do."
But first Tiffany had to get herself out of the remote area.
Tiffany Mead: I had to get somewhere where I could explain to 911 where I was. …All I could think was I had to get my baby to safety.
Somehow, Tiffany managed to drive with one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding back the blood pouring from her wound. When she got to a bus stop, with her husband beside her, he let her call 911:
911 OPERATOR: What — what happened?
TIFFANY MEAD: I tried to commit suicide. Please help me.
Tiffany Mead: As soon as there were sheriffs between me and Kris, I let 'em know, "Kris did this. He tried to kill me."
Lying in the ambulance, near death, she called her mother.
Cheryl Mead: She — she called — she — that Kris had tried to kill her and she needed me to pick up Noah. ... I had no idea what she was going through at the time.
Tiffany Mead: As I was laying in the ambulance looking up at the lights … I was thinking, "It's over. Noah's safe. [Crying] I can die now."
A QUESTION OF INTENT
Kris Ertmann was in custody and charged with attempting to murder his ex-wife — something unimaginable five years earlier when the couple first met online. Tiffany was a high school senior. He was in the Army.
Tiffany Mead: He was really sweet.
Erin Moriarty: Were you in love?
Tiffany Mead: I thought I was [laughs].
Just six weeks later they eloped. It wasn't long before they were parents. But when Ertmann returned from his deployment in Iraq, Tiffany says he became emotionally abusive and very volatile.
Tiffany Mead: He could change on the drop of a dime. …just little things would make him so angry.
Although he never hit her, she lived in fear of his rages.
Erin Moriarty: Why did you stay?
Tiffany Mead: The biggest reason — I was scared. ... I didn't think I could do it on my own.
But in late 2012, Tiffany finally had enough and fled with her boys. They moved in with her parents and she moved on with her life, working full time and going to college at night. She even started dating a new guy.
Erin Moriarty: How did Kris take you leaving?
Tiffany Mead: Not well. …It was always, "Come back to me. …You're not gonna be able to do this by yourself."
But the facts of what happened that night weren't as clear cut as detectives Jen Daley and Bob Thompson thought.
Erin Moriarty: It's dark. No one sees or hears anything. And you have Kris Ertmann saying one thing and you have Tiffany Mead saying a completely different thing.
Lt. Jen Daley: He said, she said.
They didn't even have the knife used to slit Tiffany Mead's throat. Daley believes as Tiffany drove down the dark road holding her bloody neck, her estranged husband tossed the knife out the window into a deep ravine.
Lt. Jen Daley: It's so thick. …from years of the overgrowth and … We did everything to uncover that knife … metal detectors, cadaver dogs.. …again you think, "Oh, my goodness, are we gonna lose the case because of something like that?"
Erin Moriarty: I mean, if you had the knife and you could see whether his DNA was on the knife, that's gotta – help the case.
Lt. Jen Daley: — or fingerprints. Any of it.
Lt. Jen Daley: Yes. … It's very difficult without some physical evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Adding to Daley and Thompson's concerns — a month after the attack, the judge received an unsigned letter:
Sgt. Bob Thompson [reading letter]: "I am a good friend of Tiffany, but I can't see letting this happen to Kris for his kids' sake."
The letter writer claimed Tiffany had cut her own throat and was trying to frame Kris Ertmann — exactly what Ertmann had told police.
Erin Moriarty: Any side do you think, "Oh my God, that could be true"?
Sgt. Bob Thompson: We took this as something that was credible. I mean, obviously this needed to be followed up on.
The return address was from a Mary Olson in on Monroe Street in Ogden. But as the detectives soon discovered, the address didn't exist — and it seemed, neither did Mary Olson.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: I run the driver's license of every — every Mary Olson in the state of Utah that … roughly match Tiffany's age group. Nothing. There's nothing.
Tiffany Mead: I didn't even know anyone named Mary at that time.
Erin Moriarty: Who do you think arranged for that letter?
Tiffany Mead: There's no doubt in my mind that Kris did it.
Davis County attorneys Richard Larsen and Jason Nelson also suspected an Ertmann connection, but they still needed proof to tie Ertmann to the letter and to bolster their attempted murder case against him.
Richard Larsen: We were absolutely convinced that he had inflicted the injury. That wasn't the big question. The big question was what was his intent when he did it? …this case rose and fell based on that one question.
Was Kris Ertmann actually trying to kill his estranged wife or merely injure and scare her? The defense could argue that Ertmann let Tiffany call 911 and gave her his shirt to help stop the bleeding.
911 OPERATOR: Do you have a dry clean cloth that you can apply pressure to her neck?
KRIS ERTMANN: I got my shirt, so —
Prosecutors feared without more evidence, jurors might conclude this was an aggravated assault, not an attempted murder, which meant Ertmann could be out of prison in a year.
Erin Moriarty: What's your fear if he gets out?
Lt. Jen Daley: He'll try it again.
Lt. Jen Daley: I was angry, internally angry … I couldn't even wrap my head around it that you could do that to a human being in front of a child, and a year later you're free to walk around.
Richard Larsen: She looked us — at us and said, "That's not good enough."
Jen Daley knew that making sure Kris Ertmann stayed locked up was the only way to keep Tiffany alive.
Lt. Jen Daley: …and I said … "I want to start listening to jail phone calls."
A month after Ertmann was arrested Daley started listening to his phone calls — something every inmate is warned about repeatedly.
JAIL CALL RECORDING: Hello, this is a prepaid collect call from [Kris] an inmate at Davis County Jail, Utah. … This call is subject to recording and monitoring.
Erin Moriarty: What's the chance he's gonna say anything incriminating on a phone call?
Lt. Jen Daley: Stranger things have happened.
Lt. Jen Daley: I really wanted a confession. …Because if we got the confession that that's what his intent was, then I knew we could put him away longer.
Lt. Jen Daley: So I listened, and I listened some more, and I listened some more after that.
Daley listened to hundreds of phone calls and watched endless jailhouse visits.
Lt. Jen Daley: And people would come in my office and tell me, "I can't believe you're still listening to it." And I would look at them and say, "Neither can I. I would like to stick pencils in my ears."
But with no revelations, after three months, Daley reluctantly gave up.
Lt. Jen Daley: My gut kept tellin' me … "You've got to keep listening. It's there. It's there."
So she started again, picking up where she'd left off.
Lt. Jen Daley: What if that's where his confession is?
Daley had gotten up to Ertmann's December 2013 calls – made five months after the attack. On this call from Dec. 11, 2013, he was on the phone with his father:
KRIS ERTMANN: Write down this name, Raymond *******
ERTMANN'S FATHER: Raymond?
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah. And tell Kenny to Facebook him and tell him that I'm in here.
Daley had no idea if the name had any significance, but she wrote it down on a yellow sticky notepad as she listened to more calls:
[Dec. 12, 2013:]
KRIS ERTMANN: Did Kenny ever Facebook that dude for me?
ERTMANN'S FATHER: I will tonight or tomorrow.
[Dec. 20, 2013 Call #1)
KRIS ERTMANN: OK. Um, did you hear, by chance, or call that one dude?
ERTMANN'S FATHER: No, I'll try to get it this weekend.
It was clear to Daley that for Kris Ertmann, contacting this "dude" was urgent.
[Dec. 20, 2013 Call #2)
KRIS ERTMANN: Can you send me that dude's address so I can give him a — write him too? If you can.
ERTMANN'S MOTHER: Yeah … What's his name again?
KRIS ERTMANN: Dad has it written down.
Ertmann only mentioned his friend's name once, but that's all Daley needed.
Lt. Jen Daley: I looked at that sticky pad. Still had that name written on it. And I pulled it off. And I remember it was stuck to my index finger. And I walked down the hallway into [Thompson's] office. …and I held my hand out and I said, "I need you to find this guy. …Find him for me."
A NEW THREAT
Erin Moriarty: What's been the hardest part? What's been the toughest for you?
Tiffany Mead: Getting use to all my new fears, things that most people don't think twice about.
For Tiffany Mead, memories of that harrowing July night are everywhere.
Tiffany Mead: Driving at night, the sound of dripping water …
Erin Moriarty: Dripping water, why?
Tiffany Mead: Because I heard my blood dripping in the car into a pool.
Lieutenant Jen Daley was convinced that keeping Kris Ertmann behind bars was the only way to keep Tiffany safe. And she knew she was onto something with that sticky note.
Erin Moriarty: Whatever you heard in January of 2014 changed everything in this case?
Lt. Jen Daley: It took this case in a place that we never saw coming.
It turned out the "Raymond" Ertmann mentioned is a former inmate [we're only using his first name]. He had served time on a methamphetamine possession charge. Now out on probation, Raymond agreed to talk with the detectives on camera, although he wasn't quite sure what about:
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: So, Raymond, we want to ask you some questions about when you were in our jail.
RAYMOND: OK. … I spent 90 days in, like, Davis County. And so I'm doing pretty good because, to be honest, being skinny and weak and ridiculous all the time was kinda not my lifestyle.
Lt. Jen Daley: He's a character. … But when he talks … it's instantly credible. …he doesn't have anything to hide.
That is until Sgt. Thompson brought up Kris Ertmann, and something changed:
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: Did you get to know any of the inmates in there? … What about a guy named Kristopher Ertmann?
RAYMOND: Oh. Yeah. Yeah. … He's a quiet guy.
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: Did he ever talk about the situation that he was in with his ex-wife, and all that stuff?
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: Tell me about that.
RAYMOND: What happened in jail stayed in jail, man.
But Daley saw a chance to appeal to Raymond's conscience – and it worked:
LT. JEN DALEY: There's a time to do what's right. …This is one of those moments in your life that you can start with that.
RAYMOND: OK. So! What do you want to know, specifically?
LT. JEN DALEY: Tell us what he told you —
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: Just tell us about his conversations. What do you know?
RAYMOND: He just – admitted guilt, man, I guess…
LT. JEN DALEY: Tell me about him admitting guilt.
RAYMOND: Like, he said that he was guilty. Like, that he's the one that cut her throat.
For Prosecutor Richard Larsen, that was a crucial admission from Ertmann.
Richard Larsen: …up until that point he had claimed that he had had no involvement.
And that wasn't all. Raymond told them about a handwritten letter that Ertmann gave him to copy once he got out of jail.
RAYMOND: Saying that I was his wife, to the judge that was presiding over his case, saying that she admitted that she lied, and that the allegations were false.
It sounded a lot like the other letter from "Mary Olson;" remember, authorities suspected it was orchestrated by Ertmann, but they couldn't prove it. If they could find this letter in Ertmann's handwriting, they could charge him with obstruction of justice.
LT. JEN DALEY: Well let's get that letter.
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: Yeah…
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: Where's it at?
RAYMOND: I have to find it, dude. I think it's in Ogden.
And while Raymond was getting things off his chest, Thompson took a chance:
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: did he ever ask you to do anything to Tiffany?
RAYMOND: Uhhhh. Yeah.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: That question was purely just a shot in the dark.
SGT. BOB THOMPSON: Tell me about that.
RAYMOND: He just asked me if I had the connections to arrange – for bad things to happen to her. I told him that I did not.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: …Jen all of a sudden leans forward, like, "Holy cow."
LT. JEN DALEY: You said bad things – what are bad things?
RAYMOND: To arrange her death. Specifically.
According to Raymond, Ertmann asked him to hire a hit man to silence Tiffany for good.
Richard Larsen: At that moment we realize that this has gone to a whole new level where, we've got somebody who's in custody that is still trying to orchestrate the death of his victim.
And if they could prove that Kris Ertmann was looking to put out a hit on Tiffany, they could charge him with another crime: solicitation to commit aggravated murder — potentially ensuring that he would stay behind bars for the rest of his life. But first, they had to warn Tiffany.
Tiffany Mead: He wanted to have me killed. He wanted to have someone else do what he couldn't. …I remember … everyone was asleep, just sitting on the … floor crying and rocking back and forth, and wondering [in tears] if I could ever leave the house again.
And the case against Ertmann got stronger when Raymond was able to find that Ertmann letter.
Richard Larsen: I remember Jen and Bob coming in with great, big smiles on their face. And they're like, "We've got it."
A handwriting analysis confirmed that Ertmann had written it. Next, Daley and Thompson sent Raymond back in to "visit" Ertmann through the jail's video conference system. The goal: to get Ertmann on tape telling Raymond to send that letter to the judge — and more important, to order a hit:
RAYMOND: I've still got that letter, dude. Like, I've got that ready, bro. Do you want me to send it?
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah, you can do that.
Erin Moriarty: You got him.
Lt. Jen Daley: On obstructing charges.
But when it came to the hit:
RAYMOND: You remember that work you needed done, though?
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah.
RAYMOND: Dude, I've got that guy, bro. …
KRIS ERTMANN: I can't do it at this time. No.
RAYMOND: Should I try to like negotiate a little bit and see what I can do? Or what?
KRIS ERTMANN: No, let's just wait on that.
Without that green light from Ertmann, prosecutors didn't have enough for the solicitation charge and they'd used up their source. It seemed like a dead end.
Lt. Jen Daley: It sucked. There's no doubt about it. …And there was a devastation. And — and it was interesting, because then it was, like, "Where do we go from here?" …I couldn't give it up … I'm glad I never gave it up, 'cause the next step came.
HIRING A "HIT MAN"
Tiffany Mead: If I hadn't [have] told him what he wanted to hear, there is no doubt in my mind [emotional] that he would've killed me. He would've happily watched me bleed to death.
Davis County detectives Bob Thompson and Jen Daley were convinced that, even from jail, Kris Ertmann was still trying to kill his wife — they just couldn't prove it.
Lt. Jen Daley: We were done at that point, or so we thought…
And then out of the blue, Daley heard from an "old friend," a jailhouse informant who had given her information in the past.
Lt. Jen Daley: He's a bad guy. …He's hurt people. …you wouldn't want to meet him up in an alley.
The inmate [whose name we are not using] was back in the Davis County Jail, in the same cellblock as Kris Ertmann. He told Daley he had information he was willing to trade for help with his case.
Lt. Jen Daley: …and I told him, "No." …So you're either going to tell me what you have or this is done.
Daley knew from experience how unreliable this particular inmate could be.
Lt. Jen Daley: In one minute the guy has amazing information and it's validated, and then the next minute he screws you.
Still, this snitch knew specific details about Tiffany's attack — and there was more.
Lt. Jen Daley: Kris is trying to get him to hire somebody to kill Tiffany. ... I almost fell off my seat, because if anybody could do it, it's him. …this heightened it even more for me.
So Daley and the team decided to set up a sting and arrange for Ertmann to be introduced to a person posing as a hired gun.
Erin Moriarty: Don't you worry about this idea that the defendant can say, "This was entrapment. I wasn't planning on hiring a hit man."
Richard Larsen: Not at all. The case law is very clear. It's only entrapment if the government is convincing somebody to do something they wouldn't otherwise do. …you don't go and say, "Hey, can I do this for you?" It's, "I've heard you want me to do this. Is that correct?"
So they turned to an undercover cop we're calling "Jim Kelly."
At that time, Kelly was working in narcotics and knew how to deal with informants.
The detectives put their plan in motion and sent Kelly to visit the informant at the jail. He had told Ertmann he was meeting with a "hit man" who could help him out. Ertmann can be seen on camera behind the informant.
INMATE: Where's Ertmann? Tell him to come here for a second.
Erin Moriarty: That's Kris Ertmann?
Det. Jim Kelly: Uh-huh [affirms].
Erin Moriarty: And he's taking a look at you because he wants to get —
Det. Jim Kelly: He wants to see … who is this person that's gonna come do this for me.
But looking is all Ertmann does. Instead of talking, he hands the inmate a piece of paper to show to the hit man:
INMATE [Holding the paper to the camera]: Could you see that?
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: Yeah.
INMATE: That's all you need to see for right now.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: OK.
It's the address where Tiffany is staying.
Erin Moriarty: And is it the correct address?
Det. Jim Kelly: It is.
Richard Larsen: It shows that he's starting to take the bait.
It's a start, but Prosecutor Richard Larsen says it's not yet enough to bring new charges.
Richard Larsen: The criminal act is the solicitation to have her killed. …Just because he provides an address of his victim isn't enough.
They needed Ertmann to confirm on camera that his ex-wife was the target.
Detectives warned Tiffany about the latest threat, and asked her to pose for photos staged to look like surveillance photos taken by the hit man.
Lt. Jen Daley: We … filled up some bags, and she got in her car and then got out, and was walking into the house … as if she just got home from shopping, and we took photos.
Jim Kelly then headed back to the jail with the photos. But when he got there…
Erin Moriarty: The whole thing falls apart.
Richard Larsen: It starts to implode.
The notoriously unreliable jailhouse informant wanted a deal. He refused to cooperate any further unless he was released from jail. Prosecutor Jason Nelson got the call.
Jason Nelson: I was not very happy … we weren't gonna be extorted by someone trying to leverage us with evidence of a potential first-degree felony.
They quickly moved the snitch out of the cellblock, but Bob Thompson was convinced he'd already tipped off Ertmann.
Erin Moriarty: It's all over.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: That's what it felt like. That's what it felt like to me. I thought all this hard work … just became unraveled … By a career criminal.
Still, Jen Daley was determined.
Lt. Jen Daley: I wanted the undercover cop to still go in … only visit Kris this time … And he was, "No. No. [Laughs] It's not gonna work. "And I'm like, "I don't care. I'm doing it anyway."
Six days after that first visit, Jim Kelly walked back into the visitor's entrance of the jail asking to see Kris Ertmann. Jen Daley was in her office watching the clock and praying.
TICK TOCK, TICK TOCK
Lt. Jen Daley: I was a basket case. Like, I seriously had butterflies in my belly to the point I thought I was gonna throw up waiting. And tick tock, tick tock.
As Jen Daley waits, undercover cop Jim Kelly returns to the Davis County Jail along with those surveillance photos of Tiffany Mead. He knows it's a gamble with long odds: would Kris Ertmann be willing to talk to him?
Erin Moriarty: You don't know whether he's gonna pick up the phone or not, right?
Det. Jim Kelly: No.
Jen Daley: I can hear myself talking, "Please, Lord. Please let him pick up that phone. Please, help her."
Det. Jim Kelly: …and the next thing I know I'm on the phone with him.
Kelly, posing as a hit man, needs to get Ertmann to identify the target and give him the go ahead.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: What's up, man?
KRIS ERTMANN: Not much … how are you?
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: I took a couple of pictures and I just want to verify with you.
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah.
So Kelly shows him the "surveillance" photos taken by the detectives.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY] [holding his cell phone with the photo to the camera]: Do you see that?
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: Is that right?
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: Is that her?
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: Okay.
Erin Moriarty: So no matter what, you know on your own … that he wants something done to his wife.
Det. Jim Kelly: Done to her, yeah. Exactly.
Ertmann had backed out before, so Kelly needs to find out if he is really serious about killing his wife.
Erin Moriarty: Some people say, you know, "I want to kill my wife." And then other people say, "I want to kill my wife."
Det. Jim Kelly: Right.
Erin Moriarty: What kind of things did you ask him to make sure he really wanted her dead?
Det. Jim Kelly: Uh-huh [affirms]. I mean, because we were being recorded and he knew we were being recorded … we had to kind of speak in a code.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: So, what ***** was telling me was, you know, make it happen.
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah, yeah, you know. Have fun.
Det. Jim Kelly: And so I had to do the best I could in … making sure that we're talking about what we believed we were talking about.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: And you're saying all the way, right? Not –
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah, have fun.
Det. Jim Kelly: Three or four times tried to say things like … you know, "we're going all the way?" …and making him affirm that.
Erin Moriarty: And he just says, "Yeah, go have fun."
Det. Jim Kelly: Yeah. …"go have fun" was hard to hear.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: Is there a time period? I mean is there –
KRIS ERTMANN: No, no.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: No.
KRIS ERTMANN: Sooner the better.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: Sooner the better?
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah.
And then it's time to talk money.
Det. Jim Kelly: I've never been asked to kill anybody. … I don't know what the dollar figure is.
So he went where we all go for answers: Google.
Erin Moriarty: You can actually Google the going rate for murder for hire?
Det. Jim Kelly: Unfortunately, yeah, we put that into Google and we found a number.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: I'm thinking about 5K.
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: Does that work?
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah.
Kelly had the green light from Ertmann — but just to be sure, he asked again:
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: So just so we're clear, I'm talking about, you know, we're not – there's no way to come back from it once I do it.
KRIS ERTMANN: I know.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: You're good with that?
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah, yeah.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: And 5,000's good?
KRIS ERTMANN: Yeah.
HIT MAN [DET. JIM KELLY]: OK, well I'll — I'll — I'm planning on taking care of it this weekend.
KRIS ERTMANN: Kay.
Back in her office, Daley gets the news she had been praying for.
Lt. Jen Daley: And I went from complete almost despair that we lost this case to elation like I haven't felt [snaps fingers] in a blink of an eye.
Sgt. Bob Thompson: it was the best feeling ever. …We knew this was a solid case and we knew that we could get the conviction now.
Daley then calls Tiffany.
Tiffany Mead: I was so relieved.
Erin Moriarty: The best feeling you'd had in a while?
Tiffany Mead: Yeah. That was probably the safest I had been since all of it started [laughs].
Along with the attempted murder charge, prosecutors now added obstruction of justice and solicitation to commit aggravated murder.
Lt. Jen Daley: That man committed more felonies in the jail than he did when he was free.
It took Daley and Thompson almost a year to get the evidence they had hoped would keep Kris Ertmann locked up, but the case would never go to trial.
Erin Moriarty: Disappointed?
Lt. Jen Daley: No. For Tiffany. She didn't want it to go to trial.
Prosecutors offered Kris Ertmann a deal and he pleaded no contest.
KRIS ERTMANN [in court]: Yeah, I'll take blame for it. I did it. But I was not in my right mind. …I'm not dangerous.
Erin Moriarty: Kris says that he was suffering from PTSD.
Richard Larsen: Right.
Erin Moriarty: You don't buy that.
Richard Larsen: I don't buy it at all. …we had no actual diagnosis of PTSD. …For us, we believed that that was — fictional. And that he was only saying that to try and negate his personal accountability.
Ertmann's plea means he could spend anywhere from six years to the rest of his life in prison. By law in Utah, it will be up to the Board of Pardons and Parole to decide when Ertmann will be released.
Four years after his plea, Kris Ertmann appears before the parole board.
Jen Daley makes the 150-mile drive to be at the hearing – and to support Tiffany.
Lt. Jen Daley: I, in my career, have never attended a parole hearing, and I won't miss one of his … I hope that I can help keep him there as long as possible.
Erin Moriarty: He's that dangerous?
Lt. Jen Daley: Yes.
At Tiffany's side, is Butters, her very protective emotional support dog.
Tiffany Mead: I have to do everything in my power to keep this monster locked away.
TIFFANY MEAD [at hearing]: I wake up every morning, wondering if today is gonna be the day that Kris will send someone to "have fun" killing me. … I am here again, terrified … And if he's ever released, there is no doubt in my mind, he will come for me, and he will finish what he started. … Please help me keep my kids safe.
Tiffany will have to wait for the board's decision, but five years after she was almost killed, her future seems brighter. Besides her loving family, she has a new husband and her ever-present "guardian angel," Captain Jen Daley.
Tiffany Mead [in tears]: She's moved mountains. She's — she's helped save my life.
Capt. Jen Daley: I don't know why the cards fell the way they did … I'm just grateful it all worked out for Tiffany Mead, because I got involved into this job in 1989 to help people and I can say I helped one person.
Kristopher Ertmann was not granted parole. The board found there was still a risk to public safety. His next hearing will be in June 2029.
If you or anyone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
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