Clarence Weber was not acting as a travel agent when he was caught on tape saying he wanted two witnesses in the murder case against him sent "on vacation," a Lake County judge ruled Monday.
Associate Judge Theodore Potkonjak instead found Weber, 61, guilty of solicitation of murder for hire after a four-hour trial Monday.
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Weber, who already is serving a 55-year prison sentence for the July 5, 2008 slaying of his wife, Adelina Weber, will face an additional 20- to 40-year term when he returns to court Sept. 1.
Authorities said Weber, formerly of Waukegan, was in the Lake County jail awaiting trial on charges he fatally stabbed his wife in a Lincolnshire hotel parking lot when he asked a fellow inmate to kill a pair of witnesses.
The inmate, Jermaine Daniels, was wearing a hidden recording device placed on him by Lake County Sheriff's detectives after he had reported two days earlier that Weber had requested the murders of Yugi Tamura of Long Grove and Martha Bautista of Mundelein.
Tamura had seen Weber and his wife arguing in the hotel parking lot just moments before she was stabbed multiple times. Bautista, a co-worker of Adelina Weber's, was prepared to testify that Clarence Weber had left his estranged wife a note asking they meet outside the hotel.
During the recorded conversation between Daniels and Weber, Weber is heard saying that he wants Tamura and Bautista to "disappear" and to "go on vacation" so that they would not be able to testify against him.
Daniels told police that Weber originally offered him $100,000 to kill the two, but on the tape Weber promises Daniels only $10,000.
Prosecutors Eric Kalata and Lauren Walker argued in court Monday that Weber's intent was clear, regardless of the sophomoric code in which he spoke.
"When the defendant is talking about a vacation for the witnesses, he is not suggesting a trip to Disney World," Kalata said in his closing argument. "When he says these people should disappear, he is not proposing they join a magic club."
Assistant Lake County Public Defenders John Bailey and Katherine Hatch assailed Daniels -- who since 1993 has served seven prison sentences for felony convictions in Cook and DuPage counties -- as an opportunist who tricked their client in order to cut a deal.
Daniels, who was facing five years in prison on a theft case, ultimately was sentenced to time served in recognition of his informing on Weber.
"Jermaine Daniels has made a career out of going into jails and picking out weak people to get what he wants," Hatch said. "And what he wants is to get out of jail."
In finding Weber guilty, Potkonjak said that while "Jermaine Daniels is far from a good guy," Weber's words on the tape were clear enough.
"The state is right in saying that when all the dust settles the tape speaks for itself," he said. "Even though Mr. Weber is a man of few words, the words he does say get right to the point."