Trial starts for man accused of murder-for-hire


Associated Press

Posted on July 12, 2011 at 7:03 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 12 at 11:00 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal murder-for-hire trial began Tuesday for a man accused of plotting to kill a prosecutor and key witnesses in an Idaho drug case.

Kelly J. Polatis, of St. George, faces four counts of witness tampering and 13 counts of using interstate commerce in the commission of a murder-for-hire. If convicted of the charges, Polatis faces a maximum prison term of 250 years .

Prosecutors alleged Polatis attempted to hire an undercover FBI agent posing as a hit man to kill five people who spoke to authorities about his involvement in a 700-plant marijuana growing operation in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Polatis was acquitted of the Idaho drug charges in April 2010, but was charged the same day for the alleged murder-for-hire plot.

Prosecutors contend Polatis hatched the scheme to kill his Idaho associates as he was awaiting trial on the drug charges.

Polatis traveled to Nevada in May 2009 so that an Idaho associate could introduce him to a "hit man" whom the associate allegedly knew from prison, according to court documents. The associate was working as an informant for the government, and the "hit man" was an FBI agent.

Court papers say Polatis never specifically said he wanted anyone killed, but did discuss the price for the "hit man's" services and the number of victims.

Over drinks in a Las Vegas casino and hotel Polatis also told the agent that paying 50 percent down on a $15,000 fee was not a problem, the court papers said.

Defense attorneys said during a pretrial hearing that Polatis had an alcohol problem that led him to make reckless statements, but that he never paid for a killing.

The defense wants to call a psychologist to testify about the impact that alcohol dependency has on an individual's brain function and competency.

Attorneys sparred over the issue while the jury was not in the courtroom.

Polatis was "never sober" during the time of the alleged crime and that his vulnerability to its effects leads him to say "crazy things that he doesn't mean," defense attorney Gordon Campbell told U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups.

"This stuff just comes out of a great alcoholic blur," Campbell said, explaining Polatis' acts.

Over objections from prosecutors, Waddoups said he would allow the psychologist to be called, but said the defense must provide details about the scope of the testimony in advance.