A Lancaster man who plotted to kidnap, torture, and cut up a romantic rival last year was sentenced to three years in prison Tuesday after striking a plea bargain that let him avoid spending up to 60 years in prison.
Joseph Hegler, 20, pleaded guilty to attempted kidnapping and assault and battery under a negotiated plea deal that dropped an attempted murder charge. Hegler accepted an Alford plea, where he acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him but did not admit guilt. An Alford plea, for sentencing, is treated the same as a guilty plea.
Hegler said the scheme to kill the rival suitor after a former girlfriend spurned him was “out of character.” Both Hegler and his lawyer, Mark Grier, asked the judge for probation after Grier claimed that a police informant set Hegler’s plot in motion.
“Give me as little time as possible. I promise you won’t regret it,” Hegler told visiting Judge Dan Hall from York.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Hall suspended a 30-year sentence for kidnapping but included five years of probation, meaning that Hegler must not commit a crime during probation or he will have to serve 30 years.
Police and prosecutors say a friend of Hegler’s found out that he was plotting to kill the victim in 2014. The friend contacted police and agreed to wear a wire to record conversations so that the killing could be stopped. Hegler was arrested in May 2014 before the victim was hurt, but Randy Newman, 6th Circuit solicitor, spoke in court of “an elaborate scheme and plan” where Hegler “planned to torture and kill” the rival.
Hegler collected guns, concrete, a knife, machete and gloves. He wore a camouflage suit, had baseball bats, and even concocted a plan to snatch the victim by covering a roadway with branches, Newman said. Hegler conducted a “dry run” before the crime.
Hegler planned to steal the victim’s phone after chopping him up, encasing him in concrete and throwing him in the river. Hegler’s plan was to then text the former girlfriend saying that the relationship with the now dead man was over, allowing Hegler to move back into the picture.
Hegler, wearing gloves and the camouflage suit on May 11, 2014, was in a vehicle pulled over by waiting deputies before he could pull off the kidnapping and murder. He told deputies in a recorded statement: “I wasn’t gonna hurt him that bad; I was just gonna rough him up.”
But Lancaster Sheriff’s Office detective Jason Catoe said police who found the massive cache of weapons and items to burn and dispose of the body were certain that Hegler “was taking steps to take out the victim.”
Grier, Hegler’s lawyer, claimed the informant planted the seed with Hegler to kill the rival. The informant, who previously had been a confidential informant for police in drug cases, “provoked” Hegler into the crime, Grier said.
Grier claimed the informant had come up with the idea of murder as retribution when the informant was spurned.
Grier, the 6th Circuit assistant public defender, was considering a trial strategy alleging Hegler was entrapped by overzealous police and the informant, but conceded that Hegler, with a history of attention deficit disorder and other troubles, had done enough in the planning of the crimes to warrant taking a plea deal and not risk decades in prison if convicted at trial.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065