MOULTRIE -- A Moultrie man sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiring to kill his estranged wife recently appealed his case to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

In February 2003, a Colquitt County jury rendered guilty verdicts for all six counts against John Cleve Sexton. His defense attorney Ronald Beckstrom of Valdosta was able to converge the six convictions into three counts: Conspiracy to commit murder, aggravated stalking and one count of terroristic threats on Eugene Eubanks, key witness for the prosecution and the man Sexton was trying to enlist to help him.

Hours of Georgia Bureau of Investigation tapes unfolded Sexton's plot. Eubanks, who agreed to aid the GBI's investigation by concealing a tape recorder at his home, got Sexton to discuss plans to lure Julia Sexton to Eubanks' house, tie her to a chair and kill her by pumping cocaine into her arm and make it look like she accidentally overdosed.

Sexton wanted to have sole custody of their daughter, because of the couple's strained relationship and his wife's alleged drug abuse.

He had acquired syringes and latex gloves, but the rest of the items he planned to use, including an "eight-ball" (one-eighth of an ounce) of cocaine and a gun, had not materialized.

Beckstrom said the GBI's investigation was "shabby" and faulted investigators for not recording conversations in Eubanks' car (where testimony revealed Sexton discussed much of his intent), not dusting the latex gloves for prints, not checking with hospital inventory to see if any supplies went missing, not checking out the possibility that Eubanks could have procured the syringes or the gloves and not recording the GBI agent's interrogation of the defendant.

Beckstrom also strongly believes the second count of criminal attempt to commit murder, at the least, should have been thrown out when he asked for a directive verdict on all counts. The law requires, he said, for criminal attempt that a substantial step has to be taken and that the offender had to begin perpetrating the crime, and he said there was no evidence of that.

The lawyer had said his client was simply venting his frustrations about his wife and had been set up.

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