US Supreme Court stops appeal in murder plot case

AP News
Posted: Apr 18, 2011 2:45 PM
US Supreme Court stops appeal in murder plot case

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday in a murder-for-hire plot after the star prosecution witness lied about his military background.

The court said Monday it will not review a divided appeals court ruling that, by a 6-5 vote, upheld the conviction of Idaho businessman David Hinkson for plotting to kill a federal judge, prosecutor and tax agent.

Hinkson is serving a 43-year prison term.

Earlier, a three-judge panel on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Hinkson deserved a new trial because the witness, Elven Joe Swisher, lied about his war record and presented forged documents about it.

Swisher later was convicted of defrauding the government of nearly $100,000 in veterans benefits and wearing unauthorized military medals.

Hinkson, the owner of the Grangeville, Idaho-based mineral water company WaterOz, was charged in the plot in 2004.

Prosecutors said Hinkson tried to hire a business associate and Swisher to kill U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Cook and Internal Revenue Service Special Agent Steven Hines, who were all involved in a federal tax case against WaterOz. None of the officials were harmed.

In the tax case, Hinkson was convicted of tax evasion and violating Food and Drug Administration laws against selling misbranded drugs and equipment by claiming his mineral water contained gold and silver and could treat ailments ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome to AIDS.

Swisher was the government's star witness in the murder plot case. During that trial, prosecutors described Swisher as a Korean War veteran, and while on the witness stand Swisher sported a replica Purple Heart pin on his lapel.

Swisher also testified that Hinkson was impressed and wanted to hire him for the hit after hearing about his combat exploits and claims of killing enemy soldiers in battle.

But in 2007, Swisher was convicted in federal court of lying about his military service, wearing unauthorized military medals, forging military documents and theft of government funds for taking $95,000 in unearned military benefits. Swisher was sentenced to a year in prison and three years of supervised release.

Hinkson's attorneys argued on appeal that Hinkson should be given a new trial because of the lies and forged documents presented by Swisher.

Hinkson said that the prosecutors also erred during their closing argument because they referred to Swisher as a combat veteran.

But in writing for the 11-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Carlos Bea said that the government's only references to Swisher's military background were to point out that Swisher told Hinkson he was a veteran, not that Swisher actually was one.