A murder solicitation charge against a Pulaski County doctor was dismissed Wednesday.
At the conclusion of the prosecution’s evidence in the preliminary hearing of Dr. Paul J. D’Amico, a Pulaski County judge ruled evidence was insufficient to show probable cause the doctor tried to solicit the murder of his estranged wife, Deborah D’Amico.
Pulaski County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge H. Lee Chitwood ordered the charge dismissed. However, that does not prevent the prosecution from seeking to have the charge reinstated through a direct indictment from a grand jury at a later date.
A month ago, Judge Chitwood cleared D’Amico of misdemeanor charges of domestic assault and sexual battery.
According to evidence presented at Wednesday’s hearing, the murder solicitation charge came about as the result of a complaint made to police by a former nurse who accused D’Amico of the sexual assault.
D’Amico’s attorney, Tom Bondurant, called the accusations an attempt by the woman to get back at the doctor for a failed romance with him. He pointed out that the accusation of murder for hire was made 32 days after the solicitation was alleged to have occurred.
“Surely someone would have reported (the solicitation) to police sometime in that 32 days if they had thought he was serious,” Bondurant said.
The nurse who made the accusation did not testify Wednesday, but another former employee, Brandy Bryant, said she overheard D’Amico ask a patient “do you know a hit man?” and “how much would one cost?” this past June 6.
She said she didn’t hear D’Amico specify who he wanted to target with a hit man. She said around mid-June he made the comment, “I should’ve killed her when I had the chance,” when referring to his wife.
On cross-examination by Bondurant, Bryant said D’Amico had a habit of making comments suggesting someone should be dead or killed when he would get angry with them. She estimated that occurred a couple of times a week, so she never took him seriously or felt compelled to call police.
When it came to the comment she overheard, she said she didn’t really know how to take it because of all of the problems that were going on between the D’Amicos at that time. Nonetheless, she acknowledged she didn’t report the comment to police.
The patient, Gregory Ayers, acknowledged D’Amico asked if he knew a hit man, but he told the doctor “no” and there was no other comment or discussion of the cost of a hit man. He also denied prosecution contentions that D’Amico said anything about Deborah D’Amico or harming her.
While Bryant said the comments were made in the patient examining room, Ayers said it was made in the front of the office, within earshot of two employees. He said he didn’t take the comment seriously.
“I didn’t think nothing about it,” added the patient, who indicated he has known D’Amico for six to nine years.
Ayers called the doctor “a great guy.”
Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Sgt. W. R. Ritter said he went to D’Amico’s office and placed him under arrest after the nurse indicated D’Amico solicited a patient to kill Deborah D’Amico. He acknowledged the accusation came out after the nurse filed the sexual battery charge in July.
When Ritter told D’Amico he was aware of the conversation with Ayers, the officer said D’Amico commented, “I was kidding.”
“In this case, you basically have a defendant who was mouthing off,” Bondurant said when asking the court to strike the prosecution’s evidence as insufficient and dismiss the charge. “The Commonwealth’s own evidence is that he talks like that routinely.”
Bondurant said it is up to the prosecution to show intent to carry out the act, not just comments made while “venting” anger. Besides, he noted, “We don’t even have a specified victim here.”
He said prosecution evidence failed to establish Deborah D’Amico was a target.
“It’s terribly unfair for this man to be brought in here on evidence” provided by an accuser whose testimony was found to be unsubstantiated by the court in the sexual battery case.
Bondurant called upon Judge Chitwood to “end this man’s pain” by dismissing the felony charge.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Victor Bongard said investigators learned of the incident from the nurse, but established the case based on independent witnesses, not based on the nurse’s accusation.
After the case was dismissed, the judge instructed court officials to direct Bondurant and D’Amico to the proper office to have an electronic ankle bracelet removed.
The electronic tracking device was placed on D’Amico as part of his bonding requirements.