A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and fighter pilot from Folly Beach is expected to be tried this summer in an alleged conspiracy to kill his ex-wife.
Lawrence Edward Lee, 62, could appear for the jury trial by the end of August, attorneys said Tuesday during a federal court hearing in downtown Charleston.
Lee was indicted in mid-May on a charge of using an interstate commerce facility in the commission of murder for hire. He has been jailed without bail since his arrest April 9.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel will determine later whether to hold the trial Aug. 18.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams, who is prosecuting two other murder-for-hire cases in the Charleston area, and Lee's defense lawyer indicated Tuesday that they would be ready for a trial.
Charleston attorney Cameron Blazer, who represents Lee along with Andy Savage, told Gergel that her client does not plan to plead guilty.
If convicted, he would face up to 10 years in prison.
Details of the scheme allegedly hatched by Lee have been revealed in court documents since his arrest.
With a storied career in the Air Force, Lee is widely known among members of the Lowcountry military community. He served for two years until 2012 as a tactical officer in the Third Battalion barracks on The Citadel campus.
After earning a bachelor's degree in psychology from the college, Lee got married and joined the Air Force in December 1974.
He spent more than 19 years during two stints in the military, his attorneys said Tuesday, and served as a pilot during some of that time.
Lee flew F-16 Fighting Falcon jets and worked in a test unit for the F-117 stealth fighter. For five years until his retirement in 1995, his attorneys added, Lee flew missions in support of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the Gulf War.
After retirement, Lee invested in real estate but later declared bankruptcy, court records showed.
His wife, Nora, filed for divorce in August 2008 in Indiana's Harrison County.
During the proceedings, Lee agreed to make a $50,000 down payment on a new house for his ex-wife in North Charleston's Park Circle neighborhood.
The divorce went through, but the two found themselves back in court after Lee fell behind in alimony, according to an FBI agent's testimony earlier this year.
The authorities alleged that Lee first approached a man who was renovating a house he owned in September 2013 and asked where he could get a .38-caliber pistol with a silencer. Then after a divorce hearing in October, he told the man, "I gotta kill this (woman)," according to the arrest affidavit.
Lee first asked the worker in November if he knew anyone who could kill her, the document stated.
"He made several attempts to talk Lee out of committing the murder when it was apparent ... that Lee was serious about his intentions," FBI Agent David Olsen wrote in the affidavit.
The worker still hadn't gone to the police by Feb. 22, when the FBI said he used a cellphone to record a conversation with Lee at the West Ashley house that was being remodeled.
In that recording, according to the affidavit, Lee talked about making his ex-wife's death look like a robbery-homicide "since the area (in North Charleston) where she lives is surrounded by crime."
The men discussed routes to her community and a $20,000 payment, the affidavit alleged. Lee wanted to limit his involvement with the plot and said he would burn any evidence of it, the document stated.
"What I don't know," he said, according to the paperwork, "I can't say."
After the worker told an acquaintance about the conspiracy, word of it got to the FBI. He had feared blowback for reporting it, agents said, because Lee had connections with local authorities.
The man became an informant for the federal agents.
With an FBI recording device, he captured another chat with Lee on March 21, when Lee talked about pulling money from Bullit Turf Service 2 Inc., a landscaping company that he owns in Louisville, Ky.
Lee's attorneys, though, have said that he often used cash to pay the man for his construction work.
The two then drove together March 26 to the intended target's Park Circle home.
"This is the excuse. This is not a good neighborhood," Lee said, according to the affidavit. "(This is a) target-rich environment for the black people that are crooks."
FBI agents later took photographs of his ex-wife's house. The informant showed the photos to Lee as proof that the plot was underway, the FBI said.
The last meeting between the two came April 2, when the informant's hidden video camera showed Lee paying $5,000 as a first installment for the killing, according to the affidavit.
When the FBI outlined those accusations during a preliminary hearing this spring, Lee's wife and daughters wept.
But his attorneys said Tuesday that other family members plan to stand by him through the trial.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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