HAGERSTOWN — Protesting that he was innocent of trying to hire an inmate to kill his wife, James Eugene Keiser Jr. was sentenced Tuesday in Washington County Circuit Court to 30 years in state prison for solicitation to commit first-degree murder.
"You are about to sentence an innocent man," Keiser told Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. before the sentence of life with all but 30 years suspended was announced in court in Hagerstown. "There was nothing truthful about that case."
Long read off a list of Keiser's convictions going back to 1987, including several for driving while intoxicated and assaulting another ex-wife.
"You come in today and say, 'I'm the victim,'" Long said. "You find yourself here, and it's everybody else's fault. Well, I just don't see it that way."
Long ordered Keiser to have no contact with his former wife and, when released, never to come within 1,000 feet of her.
A jury convicted Keiser in October of solicitation to commit murder, as well as solicitation to commit first-degree assault. Long gave Keiser a 25-year concurrent sentence for that conviction.
Keiser had been charged by the Washington County Sheriff's Office with trying to hire Tyrone Smith, a fellow inmate at the county detention center, to kill or assault Shirley Keiser, now his ex-wife.
Smith testified at the trial that James Keiser told him where she worked, what vehicle she drove and the override code on the alarm system on her Hagerstown area home.
Smith testified Keiser offered him $15,000 in late 2009 to kill his wife.
Keiser testified Smith learned those details through conversations in jail and probably deduced the alarm code, which was the name of Keiser's dog.
Keiser claimed that interaction occurred while he was being detained on charges of assaulting Shirley Keiser and violating a court protective order on Dec. 16, 2009.
A deputy testified that, at the time of Keiser's arrest, he said "no piece of paper" would stop him from getting his wife, and he talked about shooting her in the head with a nail gun.
Keiser was later convicted in the assault case and sentenced to 18 months in prison, according to court records.
"It was 'He said, she said,' and he's guilty," Keiser told Long about the testimony of Smith and other state witnesses.
"I feel my wife has used me and thrown me away like a piece of trash," Keiser said.
Keiser said he turned down a plea offer from the state that would have resulted in a five-year sentence because he is not guilty.
Assistant Public Defender Carl F. Creeden told Long that Keiser has maintained his innocence all along and that the prosecution case was based largely on the testimony of a convicted thief. He asked Long to consider a sentence below the state guidelines of 20 years to life.
Keiser had been offered a five-year sentence before the trial, when Smith was incarcerated in another state, and it was unclear if he would be available to testify, Assistant State's Attorney Gina Cirincion said after the sentencing.
Creeden said Keiser's conviction will be appealed.