As the trial of Michael Joseph Bien on attempted capital murder and criminal solicitation got underway today, both sides found themselves in agreement on one thing: they want the jury to see and hear all the taped evidence in the case.
Opening arguments in the case began Wednesday morning in the 35th District Court in Brownwood.
District Attorney Michael Murray began to outline what the prosecution says happened beginning in April of 2012 and ending with Bien's arrest that December. The prosecution told jurors that Bien's marriage had gone sour and when it ended in divorce, he sought to cause his ex-wife to suffer.
“...a plot – a scheme – by Michael Bien to have members of that family killed,” Murray said in his opening statement.
Murray told jurors that evidence would show that Bien wanted to hire a hit man to kill his ex-wife's parents and later her brother. He said that Bien had a plan and sought out a lifetime friend, Mickey Westerman, to put him in touch with people willing and able to carry out the crime.
According to prosecutors, Westerman ended up working with the Texas Rangers as a confidential informant with no compensation or favors given. Westerman was in the ninth year of a 10-year felony probation. After his involvement in the case, Ranger Danny Briley did contact those in charge of Westerman's parole and tell them how crucial he was to the investigation.
Defense attorney Jason Johnson contends that the audio and video evidence will show that Westerman planned to turn on his long-time friend and came to authorities with a “turnkey plan” to set up Bien. Johnson told jurors Wednesday that Westerman kept guiding Bien down the path of pursuing a murder for hire scheme through suggestions and leveraging their friendship.
“He would push, push, and push some more,” Johnson told the jurors about Westerman's conversations with Bien about the plan.
Johnson described Westerman as a confidential informant that was selling out his best friend.
“Why would he do that?” Johnson asked the jury. “He's working for them. He's working for the people with the badges and when you do that, you have to play within the rules.”
According to prosecutors, Westerman gained exceptions to his probation requirements and all contact between him and Bien came under the supervision of Briley and other law enforcement officials.
During the investigation, Westerman's vehicle was modified to allow audio and video surveillance and phone calls between the two regularly took place from the Stephenville Texas Rangers' office and were recorded.
The prosecution said that this evidence will show Bien conceived a plan that originally targeted his ex-wife's parents and later focused on her brother, because it would cast less suspicion on Bien. They said the evidence would further show that Bien made a cash payment to an undercover officer posing as a hit man.
The defense said that authorities entrapped Bien by taking advantage of his compromised emotional state following the divorce and the death of his father. They claim that authorities used a childhood friend that may have an agenda to coerce Bien.