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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Jurors hear opening arguments, testimony in murder-for-hire case

UPDATED: Tue., March 20, 2018

Martie Soderberg, still in custody lieu of a $500,000 bond, was led into and out of court Tuesday, March 20, 2018 in yellow handcuffs to stand trial in her criminal solicitation of first-degree murder case. (Jonathan Glover / The Spokesman-Review)
Martie Soderberg, still in custody lieu of a $500,000 bond, was led into and out of court Tuesday, March 20, 2018 in yellow handcuffs to stand trial in her criminal solicitation of first-degree murder case. (Jonathan Glover / The Spokesman-Review)

A woman charged with plotting to kill her husband was brought before a Spokane County jury Tuesday as attorneys delivered opening arguments in a case webbed in hired guns and life insurance payouts.

Martie Soderberg, also known as Martie Maxwell, 40, was arrested and charged in October 2016 with felony criminal solicitation of first-degree murder. Her longtime friend and would-be hired hit man was the one responsible for turning her in, according to police.

During opening statements, defense attorney Tracy Scott Collins didn’t challenge much of the state’s evidence, but did ask the jury of eight men and five women to carefully consider the motive and demeanor of the state’s six witnesses, which includes Martin Drake – Soderberg’s childhood friend and the state’s confidential informant who played a key role in the woman’s arrest.

“Listen to them in a critical way,” Collins said. “Think about who is bringing up this plan. Is it Martin Drake or Martie Soderberg?”

Deputy prosecuting attorney Patrick Schaff, meanwhile, asked the jury to consider all the evidence. That includes over an hour of audio and video recordings in which he said Soderberg goes into detail about how she’d like Drake to kill her husband: at a rest stop, if possible, or perhaps while he’s out trick-or-treating with the kids. And preferably at work, since the state Department of Labor and Industries will pay out more if it happens on the job.

“She wanted Mr. Drake to kill her husband so the two of them could be together,” Schaff said.

Detective John Oliphant, the lead investigator in the case and the second witness to take the stand in trial, laid out the state’s evidence. On Oct. 11, 2016, a visibly upset and nervous Drake called 911 and met with Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies behind a Lowe’s to “report a murder,” only it hadn’t happened yet.

He told police that he recently reconnected with Soderberg after years of being estranged from the time the two were teenagers in Colville. Earlier that morning, the two met for breakfast, when Soderberg hatched a plot to kill her husband, who she said was “abusive, both verbally and physically,” according to court records.

Drake said Soderberg asked him to kill her husband so she could collect a $300,000 life insurance policy she recently purchased. He said she told him she purchased a more expensive policy because it specifically mentioned paying out in the event of a shooting.

After alerting detectives of the plot, Drake agreed to meet with Soderberg several more times with a “wire” recording device – in this case, a cellphone with an app that allowed law enforcement to listen in and record conversations with the device’s microphone.

Drake met with Soderberg at least two more times that were recorded. In each instance, the woman again explained the details of the shooting and plotted further.

She also asked Drake to help her buy a handgun, which is when detectives saw their opening for an arrest. On Oct. 17, Drake called the defendant and told her he found a weapons dealer who wanted $50 for a handgun. After collecting the money, detectives arrested Soderberg.

Her husband had no idea there was a plot against him, according to police. When asked about his reaction once he was told, Oliphant said the man was visibly shaken.

“He was crying,” Oliphant said. “He was upset.”

The trial, which began Monday with jury selection, is expected to run into Wednesday before the case is handed to the jury. In opening statements, defense attorney Collins indicated Soderberg planned to testify. Attorneys also plan on playing more than an hour of audio recordings between Soderberg and Drake.

Since her arrest in 2016, Soderberg has been charged in three other felony cases, with counts including theft, perjury, arson and insurance fraud.

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