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updated: 5/4/2010 11:03 AM

Murder plot charges dropped against downstate sheriff

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ST. LOUIS -- A county prosecutor has abandoned murder-for-hire charges against an Illinois sheriff who had been accused of plotting to kill witnesses in his federal drug trial, deferring to the U.S. government to bring the law officer to trial on similar charges.

Michael Wepsiec, state's attorney for Jackson County, Ill., said Tuesday that he dropped the four counts of murder solicitation for hire that he filed against Raymond Martin in January because he concluded that pursuing them would be redundant and costly.

Martin awaits trial in September on federal charges that he trafficked marijuana while on duty as Gallatin County's sheriff, then plotted to have witnesses assaulted -- and possibly killed -- as part of a scheme he masterminded while in jail. None of those witnesses were harmed.

The state charges dropped Monday "dovetail well with the federal government's charges and will result in, I believe if he's found guilty, a stiffer sentence on the federal level," Wepsiec told The Associated Press. And in a financially strapped state and county, "we won't have to expend our ever-scarcer resources" prosecuting Martin.

John O'Gara, Martin's attorney in the federal case, declined to discuss the matter Tuesday as his client prepares for trial on the federal drug, conspiracy and witness-tampering charges.

Authorities allege that Martin, while jailed on the drug charges levied against him last spring, enlisted his wife and 21-year-old son in a murder plot in which two cellmates were offered as much as $17,000 to kill the witnesses and were even supplied with a detailed map to the targets' homes.

Witnesses have testified that alleged plot unraveled when the second of the two would-be hit men got cold feet and reported the plan to authorities, then cooperated with them.

The U.S. government is seeking to seize Martin's house, the handguns he is alleged to have carried while trafficking marijuana on the job, and up to $104,000 that investigators allegedly found in his home.

The sheriff's wife and son have pleaded not guilty to the Jackson County murder-solicitation charges and are scheduled for court appearances Wednesday. All of the Martins were charged in Jackson County because the supposed murder plots where hatched while the sheriff was jailed there.

Martin remains sheriff but won't be much longer. One of his deputies, Shannon Bradley, has been named interim sheriff and won February's Democratic primary for the job. Bradley will face a Republican challenger in November's election.

Federal agents arrested Martin last year, alleging that he supplied a drug dealer and then threatened to kill him when the man said he wanted out. At least twice, according to a federal investigator's affidavit, Martin pulled his service revolver to emphasize that making the dealer "disappear" would be "that easy."