Officials free man accused of hiring hitman to kill wife

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — Prosecutors in Virginia dropped all charges against a man charged with hiring a hitman to kill his ex-wife after the accused hitman withdrew his guilty pleas and refused to cooperate with the investigation into the 2004 double slayings that also left the woman’s 7-year-old son dead.

Christopher Schmidt, 49, had been held in jail without bond on murder charges for the last three years. He was released Tuesday after prosecutors asked a judge to withdraw the charges against him, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

The case against Schmidt was thrown into disarray last week when a judge allowed accused hitman Richard Stoner to withdraw his guilty pleas for the slayings of 29-year-old Lois Schmidt and Jonathan Vetrano, her son from another marriage.

In 2019, Stoner pleaded guilty to murder charges and agreed to testify against Schmidt after prosecutors promised not to seek the death penalty against him. But when capital punishment was abolished in Virginia this summer, Stoner asked to withdraw his guilty pleas. A judge agreed with Stoner’s lawyer that the change in the law invalidated the plea deal.

Prosecutors said that without Stoner’s testimony, they don’t believe they have enough evidence to win a conviction against Schmidt.

“At this point, the commonwealth sees no other option,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle said during a brief court hearing Tuesday.

Macie Allen, a spokesperson for prosecutors, said they still hope to persuade Stoner to work with them. If they do, they’ll reinstate charges against Schmidt, Allen said.

Lois Schmidt and her son were killed in June 2004 at a Virginia Beach home Lois Schmidt shared with her parents. Lois Schmidt’s brother was also shot but survived.

The case remained cold until 2018, when investigators said they’d obtained a confession from Stoner. He testified during a preliminary hearing in 2019 that Schmidt hired him to kill his ex-wife, but he ended up killing her son, too.

Stoner, an Indiana Army veteran, still faces trial in the case. No date has been set, Allen said.

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