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Plea bargain nets wife 10-year sentence in contract killing

This was weird. Insisting she was innocent, a woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday for arranging her husband's murder. Yet her side was delighted with the result. Betty Jean Wilson already has served one year, so she will probably be out in about two years. The family of Emmett Vaughn Wilson, who was shot in the head outside a north Tampa medical center, left the courthouse feeling cheated.

"She instigated the whole thing," said Vaughn Wilson's aunt, Pauline Waller. "And she'll be walking free in two years."

"And laughing and mocking the rest of us," chimed in Grace Cox, a cousin. "She called all the shots. It was a game they played, and they won."

Betty Jean Wilson was charged with first-degree murder. Rather than risk a life sentence, the 43-year-old Georgia woman pleaded to conspiracy to commit murder under an agreement for 10 years in prison plus 20 years' probation.

Her no contest plea meant she could maintain that she is innocent but that it is in her best interest not to fight the charge.

"She has suffered, her family has suffered," said her attorney, Robert Foster. "She's got a young son and a college-age son. Foremost in her thinking has been the reunification of her family.

"Sometimes we sacrifice," he said. "She elected to sacrifice."

Foster was delighted with the plea agreement. Assistant State Attorney Clay Yates said he grudgingly agreed to it, because the state had a weak case.

"We wanted to assure that she would be held accountable for it," Yates said, "and that she'd be under supervision for a long time."

Emmett Vaughn Wilson, a retired garbage company executive who loved to fish, was shot Feb. 24, 1988, outside Northside Medical Center. The gunman, Kenneth Lester McKenzie, 37, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a life sentence and testified last month against Wiley Fred Nelson, 48. He was convicted of first-degree murder as the getaway driver.

Yates contends Betty Jean Wilson hired Nelson to kill her husband because they were contesting $150,000 in cash and property in a bitter divorce. But Nelson rebuffed all offers for his cooperation, and McKenzie had only second-hand knowledge about the woman behind the contract.

He had agreed to kill Vaughn Wilson for $15,000, but wanted reassurance the contract hadn't been canceled. So he said Nelson put him on the telephone with a woman, saying, "This is the Jean that we're doing the contract for."

"Jean" told him, "Yes, the money is still there."