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3 charged in murder-for-hire plot in Lithia

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 01:47 PM
TAMPA -

Nearly four years after Christie Fay Sehorne told authorities she found her estranged husband's body near her back door in Lithia, she has been charged in what federal authorities describe as a murder-for-hire plot involving Sehorne's then-boyfriend and a former member of the Latin Kings street gang.

Thomas Lee Sehorne, 37, was found shot to death on June 7, 2007. His wife called 911 around 8 a.m.

The couple was estranged when Sehorne was killed. Less than two years after his death, his widow married Jerry Bottorff, and the couple settled in Brandon, according to Hillsborough County records.

On Monday, Christie and Bottorff were arrested in Missouri on federal charges of using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of a murder for hire. Another man, Luis Angel Lopez, 23, described by a federal prosecutor as the gunman, was arrested and brought to federal court in Tampa.

All three defendants were ordered held without bail.

The Sehornes were married about eight years and had two children – a 6-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter – when Thomas Sehorne was killed.

The victim worked as a first mate on an ocean-going tug out of Michigan, according to his brother, Ben. He would be away 28 days and then home 10 to 12 days.

While her husband was away, Christie Sehorne, who is now 32, began a relationship with Jerry Bottorff, 40, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Downing said during Lopez' bail hearing.

The Bottorffs approached a former member of the Latin Kings, Michael A. Garcia, about having someone killed, Downing said.

They said they would pay $60,000 for the murder using a portion of the $1 million in life insurance proceeds Christie Sehorne would receive, Downing said.

Garcia reached out to Lopez, and the two men went to the Sehorne house the night of the killing, according to the prosecutor, who said Lopez was carrying a .38-caliber firearm.

They knew Sehorne had gone to drive a friend from the airport to Lakeland. When Sehorne got to the house after midnight, Lopez was hiding under Christie Sehorne's van in a carport, Downing said.

Thomas Sehorne got out of his truck, and Lopez shot him in the chest, according to the prosecutor. When he fell, Lopez walked over, put the gun against his head and fired the fatal shot, investigators say.

Ben Sehorne and his mother, Juanita, said they knew all along that Christie was to blame.

"There was no doubt in my mind that she was responsible," Ben Sehorne said.

Christie refused to cooperate with the investigation into her husband's death, said Ben Sehorne, who works as a sheriff's depute in Manatee County.

Ben and Juanita Sehorne said Christie has not allowed them to see the children since Thomas Sehorne's death.

When Thomas Sehorne was killed, he and his wife were hurting for money; their house was in foreclosure, even though Ben Sehorne said his brother sent his wife money to pay the bills.

Thomas Sehorne knew his wife had a boyfriend, and he was about to file for divorce, family members said. When he came home to Florida, he was staying with his mother and visiting his children when he could.

"My brother worshipped the ground she walked on, but she treated him like garbage," Ben Sehorne said.

"He worked extremely hard to give her everything she wanted," Juanita Sehorne said. "He gave her the house she wanted."

Family members said Christie Sehorne wanted nothing to do with them.

When she was invited to dinner, Juanita Sehorne said, Christie would stop at MacDonalds first and then refuse to eat the food that was served.

Michael Garcia, the former Latin King, is now serving a 210-month federal prison term on drug charges. Court records show he was given credit for "substantial assistance" he provided investigators. The records do not give details of that assistance.

The indictment unsealed on Monday asks that a court order the defendants to forfeit the life insurance proceeds.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7837

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