Pitkin woman faces 20 years on hit-man charge | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin woman faces 20 years on hit-man charge

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” It appears that a Pitkin County woman’s appeal to get less time in prison might have backfired.

Last Friday a federal judge found Gwen Bergman guilty of attempting to hire a hit man to kill Aspen resident John LaCouture, the father of her child with whom Bergman had been engaged in a bitter custody dispute.

That means Bergman, 52, could be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison. Her sentencing date is scheduled for Oct. 14.

Judge Walker Miller’s guilty verdict came after years of legal wrangling that saw Bergman originally sentenced to five years in federal prison as part of a plea deal in 2004. Bergman went on to appeal the sentence and won.

But the appeal, which effectively negated her earlier conviction and five-year prison sentence, also gave federal prosecutors a chance to retry the case with a new set of charges. That’s what they did, and Friday, Bergman was found guilty of conspiracy to kill LaCouture in 2004.

Now she faces up to two decades in prison on two convictions of conspiracy to commit murder, her attorney, Howard Kieffer of California, said Monday.

“It’s a very sad situation for everyone involved,” Kieffer said.

Indeed, the prison sentencing sits against a backdrop of custody disputes Bergman had with LaCouture. In 1999 the two had a child out of wedlock, and from there, the relationship between Bergman and LaCouture began to unravel.

Bergman had made allegations of child abuse against LaCouture, Kieffer said.

But Bergman then went on to hire Florida resident Jerry Eden to protect her from LaCouture, court documents allege.

She then tried to enlist Eden and a retired Denver police officer to kill LaCouture, according to a federal indictment. The men reported that they tried to talk Bergman out of it, but she persisted.

In recorded conversations in which Bergman allegedly thought she was talking to a hit man, federal prosecutors say she tried to make arrangements to pay the men $30,000 to kill LaCouture.

The federal indictment lists withdrawals totaling $30,000 from bank accounts in the Roaring Fork Valley belonging to Bergman’s mother, Elizabeth Bergman.

Federal marshals arrested Bergman on April 8, 2004, at a hotel near Denver. She has been in federal custody since.

Kieffer said that Bergman tried to plead guilty twice to the recent charges, but the federal prosecutor pushed for a trial. Kieffer said he is waiting for the final judgment on Friday’s verdict before he can file any appeal in the matter.

“It’s much too early to speculate on any appeal,” Kieffer said.

He said earlier assertions questioning Bergman’s competency to stand trial were off base.

Bergman and LaCouture’s child remains in custody of LaCouture, Kieffer said.