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Wife accused of hiring four hitmen to kill husband

BROOKSVILLE — One morning last month, Jacqucia Francois came home from work and found a man waiting for her in the garage.

While Francois called 911, two other men rushed out of the home, jumped into a white Ford cargo van and sped out of the neighborhood. Her 13-year-old son was inside the house, but no one was hurt and nothing was taken from the home.

One way or another, the plan had fallen apart.

Hernando County authorities have accused Francois and two Orlando men of concocting an early-morning home invasion as part of a plot to kill the woman's husband.

According to the Sheriff's Office, Francois, 46, hired four men to kill her husband, Fenol, at their home in the 8100 block of Nightwalker Road, west of Brooksville, before he left for work on the morning of Nov. 18.

Authorities say she wanted to be "free of him" and to have sole ownership of their property and assets.

Francois' attorney, Robert Whittel of Spring Hill, has a different interpretation of the morning's events.

"Our client is the one who called the police trying to stop this," Whittel said Tuesday. "In fact, she ran away and did everything she could to resolve the matter. To allege that she is the person behind this is a complete fabrication."

But the Sheriff's Office's investigation paints a picture of a woman who painstakingly came up with a plan to have her husband of 24 years killed in their home.

Jacqucia Francois allegedly met twice with four men — Kedner Noel, Frans Guerrier, Esnel Baptiste and someone referred to in documents only as "Mitch" — to organize the plan. The meetings took place once in the parking lot of Outback Steakhouse on Commercial Way on Nov. 16 and a day later in the parking lot of Lowe's a couple of blocks away.

At the end of the second meeting, Francois gave an undisclosed amount of money to Noel. The men rented three rooms for an overnight stay at the nearby Star Motel in Hudson, according to the report.

Francois allegedly gave the men the layout of her home, telling them the locations of the room where her husband slept and her teenage son's bedroom. The men were told to stage the home invasion about 5:30 a.m., just before Fenol Francois left for work. Jacqucia Francois would then return from her night job at Wal-Mart about 7:30 a.m. to discover the murder.

Home invasion plot fails

But the plot quickly unraveled when Fenol Francois left for work early that morning, according to the report. Guerrier, Baptiste and "Mitch" arrived at the home sometime before 6 a.m. to find that Fenol was not there.

According to the report, the men ransacked the home looking for drugs and money that had been promised to them by Jacqucia Francois and Noel, who did not participate in the home invasion. When the men couldn't find the promised goods, they went into the bedroom of the couple's 13-year-old son and ordered him out of bed at gunpoint.

The men waited at the home until Jacqucia Francois arrived about 7:30 a.m. The man referred to as "Mitch" allegedly tried to get Francois to enter the home so the men could confront her, but she refused. Within minutes, the men fled.

Three found in Orlando

The men were eventually tracked down in Orlando through the van's license plate. The 13-year-old boy and a neighbor later identified Guerrier, who was arrested on Nov. 20 on charges of home invasion and kidnapping.

During an interview with detectives on Nov. 20, Jacqucia Francois said she had withdrawn $5,500 from a bank account and given it to a "business guy" from Orlando. She later changed her story and said the men had probably stolen the money from a dresser drawer in her house, according to the report.

Francois also admitted to detectives that she had a longtime friendship with Noel and that she had met with the four men at Outback and Lowe's. A check of her cell phone records later revealed that she had called Noel about 7:30 a.m. Nov. 18 after finding the men still in her home, according to the report.

Francois was later released from custody. But on Dec. 4, Hernando authorities followed her to Orlando and found her driving in a vehicle with Noel and Noel's girlfriend.

Arrests, charges

Francois was arrested Saturday on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. Noel was taken into custody Monday and charged with conspiracy to commit murder and being a principal in the first degree.

Francois and Noel, 33, remain at the Hernando County Jail with no bail. Guerrier, 34, was held at the county jail in lieu of bail totaling $500,000. Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Baptiste. They have yet to positively identify "Mitch."

"The frightening portion of this is that an innocent 13-year-old boy was involved in this plot because he was in the house," said Sgt. Donna Black, a spokeswoman with the Sheriff's Office. "It could have gone down in a much more severe way."

Whittel, the woman's attorney, argued that his client was the victim. He even implied that her husband may have been involved in the alleged crime.

"She was the one who came home and found folks involved in the crime. She was a victim," Whittel said. "The husband and wife have had differences. He's someone who we're looking at."

Fenol Francois, 51, received a temporary domestic violence injunction Nov. 24 and later won custody of their son during a domestic court hearing on Dec. 3. A detective testified during the hearing that he believed Jacqucia Francois is a danger to her husband and teen.

According to a copy of the hearing obtained by the Times, Fenol Francois said he still cared for his wife.

"I love her to death," he said. "I still love her."

Times staffer John Frank contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Wife accused of hiring four hitmen to kill husband 12/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 18, 2008 4:45pm]
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