Judge Rejects Deal in Case of Murder-For-Hire

By Julie Manganis
Gloucester Daily Times
April 14, 2009

BEVERLY — A federal judge yesterday refused to accept a plea deal for a Beverly man charged with trying to hire a hit man to kill his 9-year-old daughter, estranged wife and mother-in-law, saying the proposed 12-year sentence isn't enough.

"What realistic guarantee do we have that he's not going to snap again?" Judge Douglas Woodlock asked John Orlowski's lawyer during what was supposed to be Orlowski's sentencing yesterday in U.S. District Court. Woodlock called the crime "bizarre and shocking."

The ruling means that Orlowski, 50, will be allowed to withdraw the guilty plea he made last year in the 2-year-old case and ask for a trial. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison. He is also facing a series of gun and domestic charges in Salem Superior Court that were also supposed to be resolved as part of the 12-year deal.

Woodlock's decision came after emotional statements from two of Orlowski's intended targets, one of whom, a 65-year-old Cape Cod woman, now has a firearms license because she is in constant fear.

Even more devastated is Orlowski's own young daughter, not yet a teenager, who double-checks the doors and windows every night to make sure they're locked, her mother told the judge.

"She has a life sentence to wonder why her father wanted her dead," the girl's mother told Woodlock. "What is that child going to tell her children?"

Woodlock took over the case after the death of Judge Reginald Lindsay, who had negotiated the plea agreement with the prosecutor, James Lang, and Orlowski's lawyer, James Roche.

"Sometimes it's not just what the parties want or what the victims feel but the larger obligations of the court," including expressing the community's denunciation of the crime and the protection of public safety, Woodlock said.

"A well-thought-out plan to murder one's mother-in-law, one's wife and one's child is, it seems to me, about as despicable a crime as you can imagine," the judge said.

'Harboring grudges'

Orlowski's former wife said outside court that she is grateful to Woodlock.

"I do really feel thankful for his understanding," said the Beverly woman, who fears that people have become desensitized to crimes like the one her former husband committed.

The woman and her mother told the judge in a victim-impact statement about years of emotional abuse during the 20-year marriage.

Orlowski lived off his wife's income and handouts from her parents and his own, said the mother-in-law, saving his own income for a motorcycle and his gun collection.

Orlowski held grudges, his former wife said, recalling how he would frequently bring up a childhood incident when he was passed over for a particular role in a YMCA activity.

"John harbors things for a long time," said his former wife. "He doesn't let things go."

She said he would boast of knowing ways to kill people: poisoning them with antifreeze, shooting them with a gun from his $100,000 arsenal. He would tell them how he had tools to break into their home.

And that's why she, her mother and her daughter are all terrified. Orlowski had already shown that he was allegedly capable of trying to hire someone to kill them for $2,000 while in jail on charges of violating a restraining order.

"We need your help," his mother-in-law told the judge. "We want to be on this Earth for as long as we are supposed to."

New claim of abuse

Roche argued that Orlowski's life was normal up until a "perfect storm" of setbacks, including an industrial accident that left him in pain, the divorce and a bout with severe depression.

But, for the first time, Orlowski also claimed that he was a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, an allegation he raised only recently, as he was preparing to be sentenced. Roche said the abuse derailed his life and turned him away from his church and school.

The priest he blamed, the Rev. Philip Breton, worked at churches in Beverly and Salem and was later accused of abusing more than a dozen boys. Orlowski was not among those making claims at the height of the church sexual abuse crisis.

Lang, the prosecutor, expressed skepticism about the claim, pointing to the timing of Orlowski's disclosure, as he was about to be sentenced in a murder-for-hire case.

"I find it peculiar that John (says he) was molested by a priest," said his former wife. Orlowski would take her to church — a Catholic church — while they were dating, and she converted to Catholicism when they married. Orlowski also sent their daughter to a parochial school.

Woodlock asked the lawyers to submit a report by May 4 as to whether Orlowski will withdraw his guilty plea.


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