As teenagers, Kristina Johnston and Robert West of Palo, Michigan, fell in love, and the two wasted no time starting a family of their own. West said that when they met, he felt “butterflies.” It was classic puppy love that blossomed into young parenthood.
When the couple reached their 20s, however, the relationship soured, and Johnston went to extreme lengths to make sure she would be awarded custody over their two boys, Devin and David.
In October 2016, Johnston began airing her grievances with West to friend Tom Shelton, telling him that the fact that she wanted West dead “ain’t no secret to nobody,” according to “Murder for Hire” on Oxygen.
Child Protective Services had recently removed the boys from Johnston’s home, awarding West temporary full custody, and Johnston was livid. She went so far as to dig a grave for her ex in the woods behind her home and show it to Shelton, according to “Murder for Hire.”
Shelton was so unnerved by what Johnston was saying to him that he began recording their conversations.
“I hate him,” Johnston can be heard saying on one of the recordings obtained by “Murder for Hire,” as she leads Shelton to the grave. Shelton laughs nervously.
At one point, Shelton even appears to try to give Johnston a chance to back down on her threatening statements, telling her that her talk about killing West was “scaring” him.
“I been talking about that for years — ain't no secret to nobody,” Johnston said in response.
On Oct. 20, Shelton brought his recordings to the Ionia County Sheriff’s Office. Clearly conflicted, Shelton told Detective Chelsea Kasul that he was a father figure of sorts to Johnston, and noted that life hadn’t been easy for her, according to “Murder for Hire.”
Still, authorities took what Johnston was telling Shelton seriously, and decided they needed to put the embittered mother in touch with an undercover cop posing as a hitman before she decided to take matters into her own hands.
They needed to put a sting operation into effect quickly, lead detective Sergeant Phil Hesche told “Murder for Hire.”
“She might at some point just lose her mind and get up in the night and drive over there and kill him herself,” he said.
Lieutenant Bill Eberhardt took on the role of the killer for hire, eventually meeting Johnston in a Walmart parking lot on Oct. 26. Eberhrdt told “Murder for Hire” that he remained vague on the phone with Johnston leading up to their meeting — “providing her an opportunity to tell me in her own words why she’s calling.”
In the recorded meeting, Johnson goes back and forth between wanting her ex dead and wanting him to just be hurt in advance of an upcoming custody hearing.
“I’m having some issues with baby daddy,” she tells Eberhardt, later adding that she had been thinking about going after West herself.
“That’s how much I hate his dumb ass,” she said on the recording.
Eberhardt, in character, eventually offers to “put a hurtin’ on” West for $1,000, or do “the full deal” for $5,000. Johnston tells the fake hitman she can spring for the $5,000.
This was enough for law enforcement, who had Johnston hauled over to the sheriff’s office on Nov. 4, and she was confronted with the damning recordings.
Johnston was charged with solicitation of murder and pleaded guilty but mentally ill the following August. She was sentenced to five to 15 years.
In conversation with “Murder for Hire,” West said he told his 14-year-old, Devin, about what had happened with his mother, but he kept it from his other son, who has Down syndrome.
“He just knew his mom wasn’t around anymore,” West said.
West felt angry, but said he was “also kind of sad for her."
Devin said that he felt betrayed, as well.
“How could my mom pretty much want to ruin my life and, you know, kill my dad?” he told “Murder for Hire.”
To watch the actual police video of Johnston’s chilling meeting with Eberhardt, and hear some of her recorded conversations with Shelton, watch “Murder for Hire,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
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