By Jason Tomassini
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A former pastor was sentenced on Monday to life in prison for ordering the murder of a blind, developmentally disabled man in Baltimore so he could collect $1.4 million in life insurance policies.
In August 2010, Kevin Pushia, 35, pleaded guilty to orchestrating the February 4, 2009 murder of Lemuel Wallace, who was picked up from his group home and shot dead in a park bathroom by an unknown gunman.
In addition to the life sentence ordered by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams, Pushia was sentenced to 45 years in prison for charges related to the insurance fraud.
Posing as Wallace's sibling, Pushia, who also worked as a caseworker for a nonprofit organization that serves the developmentally disabled, listed himself on several of Wallace's life insurance policies.
Two brothers, James Omar Clea III and Kareem Jamal Clea, were charged with executing the murder but were acquitted last month after a trial in which Pushia provided erratic and often contradictory testimony against them.
During that trial, the Clea brothers' defense attorneys claimed Pushia only agreed to testify because he was assured a lighter sentence.
Assistant State's Attorney Robin Wherley, who is prosecuting the case, said there was no such agreement.
While on the stand, Pushia offered a detailed description of the Clea brothers' car but then told the courtroom he couldn't remember the names of his own foster children.
"I had nothing to do with his death. I had something to do with his murder," Pushia said to police about Wallace, according to transcripts read in court.
Police initially arrested Pushia after an insurance company alerted them of Pushia's name on Wallace's life insurance policies. After searching Pushia's Baltimore home, police found a day planner notebook with "LW project complete" written on the page marked February 4, 2009.
Pushia told police it referred to the cleaning of his living room but eventually confessed "LW" stood for Lemuel Wallace. Pushia later told police he paid the Clea brothers more than $50,000 for the murder, using funds from his church, which he founded in 2005 but which burned down two years later.
Pushia's attorney, Russell Neverdon, could not be reached for comment. Wherley could not be reached for additional comment.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton)