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Angela Nolen, who had been teaching at Sontag Elementary School, was charged in February with soliciting to kill her ex-husband.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Angela Nolen (center) pleaded guilty to hiring a hit man to kill her ex-husband on Tuesday morning.
The Roanoke Times | File July
Angela Nolen, who had been teaching at Sontag Elementary School, walks out of the Franklin County Courthouse after pleaded guilty to hiring a hit man to kill her ex-husband.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
ROCKY MOUNT — The Franklin County kindergarten teacher accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill her ex-husband pleaded guilty Tuesday to soliciting a murder.
Angela Nolen, 47, who taught at Sontag Elementary, was arrested in February after investigators said she approached an undercover state police sergeant and agreed to pay him $8,000 to kill Paul Strickler, a retired school administrator.
When Nolen and Strickler divorced last year, court records show she was granted full custody of their 7-year-old daughter and later was issued a protective order that blocked Strickler from contacting her.
The reasons behind that order haven’t been made public, but a defense exhibit introduced into evidence Tuesday showed that Nolen told the undercover investigator she believed Strickler, 64, to be a danger to herself and to their daughter, and she said she wanted “something that would eliminate him from this earth without me being in fear constantly.”
Nolen’s unexpected plea came just three weeks before she was set to stand trial on the charge in Franklin County Circuit Court, and she acknowledged to Judge William Alexander that she has no formal agreement with prosecutors. When she’s sentenced in August, she faces a possible prison sentence of five to 40 years.
Nolen’s lawyer, David Furrow, said in court he plans to call several witnesses to testify on Nolen’s behalf, and he expects their testimony to last about three hours.
Furrow on Tuesday also introduced the first defense exhibit into evidence: the transcript of Nolen’s Feb. 19 conversation with an undercover state police sergeant who called himself “Greg.”
Nolen initially had approached a school co-worker, identified at the hearing as Sharon Williams, and asked her about hiring a hit man. Williams contacted police and, with their help, arranged for Nolen to call “Greg.”
The 14-page transcript documents the recorded conversation Nolen had with “Greg” while they sat together in his car in the parking lot of the Lowe’s in Rocky Mount, discussing plans to hit Strickler, how it could be done and how much it would cost.
According to the transcript, Nolen tells “Greg” that her ex-husband has abused both her and their daughter and she claims she is afraid of him.
“I lay awake at night with a knife in one hand and a phone in the other hand, listening for any sound,” Nolen says. “There’s a two-year protective order in place that doesn’t do me any good if he comes to my house in the middle of the night.”
When the investigator brings up the issue of how much Nolen would be willing to pay, she confesses: “I have no clue. That’s why I need to ask you.”
“Greg” at first proposes a $10,000 fee.
“How much heartache is ten grand going to cost you?” he asks.
“I ... really big,” Nolen replies, and laughs, the transcript said.
He eventually lowers that figure to $8,000 and asks for an advance of $4,000, which Nolen says she could pay.
“My tax money came in,” she says. “I can get four.”
The transcript says Nolen went to the bank and returned 20 minutes later with the cash.
“Do you want him really messed up? Do you want me to let him know it’s from you before he goes?” the investigator asks.
“No. No,” she replies, despite his urging that “that might put some finality on it.”
During their exchange, “Greg” repeatedly reminds Nolen of the seriousness and the finality of her request.
“My number one priority is to protect my daughter,” she assures him. “And I can’t do that if I’m in jail.”
“You’re going to be able to live with this?” he asks her.
“Yes,” she says. “I have a child who continues to have nightmares about daddy breaking in and killing mommy.”
The day of Nolen’s arrest, Strickler, in an interview with The Roanoke Times, said he and Nolen had been making arrangements for her to buy him out of the house they own together, and he speculated, “If I was dead, she would not have to give me the money.”
The couple married in 2000 and Strickler filed for divorce in October 2011, accusing Nolen of infidelity. In a response to his filing, she countered with accusations of violent behavior by him. He denied those claims but admitted there had been turmoil in the marriage.
Although the court did place a protective order against him, Strickler shows only one conviction against him in Franklin County courts, for a 2009 boating offense. He could not be reached Tuesday.
Furrow did not return a call after the hearing.
Franklin County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Allen declined to comment about the case except to say that the situation is unique and that he has little precedent to speculate on how Alexander might sentence Nolen at her Aug. 9 hearing.
“There’s not a lot of past cases I could use to judge,” Allen said. “I think we’re going to be arguing for some incarceration and the other side’s going to argue for little or none.
“I imagine it’s probably going to come out somewhere in the middle.”
Cathy Bennett, a friend of Nolen’s and a nurse at Sontag Elementary, was also arrested in the case and charged with one count of conspiracy to solicit to kill a person.
Bennett’s case is scheduled to go to trial in July, according to online court records. Bennett was granted $60,000 bond on Feb. 22. That amount was later raised to $75,000 after county prosecutors appealed the decision in Circuit Court.
Both women were suspended from their jobs at the school after their arrest.
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