Ex-Microsoft engineer gets seven years after trying to hire hitman for double murder

Hint: If someone says they're an assassin on the dark web, they're probably not

A former Microsoft software engineer has been sentenced to seven years in prison after paying $16,000 in Bitcoin to arrange the murder of the parents of his adopted children.

On October 27, 2021 Christopher Pence was arrested by FBI agents at his home in Cedar Creek, Utah, and subsequently admitted that in July and August of that year he had tried to recruit someone online to kill “a couple targets, husband wife that I am needing removed,” who were then living in Hoosick Falls, New York.

He provided names, addresses and photographs of the intended victims and requested that the killing be made to look like an accident, such as a robbery gone wrong. He specifically requested that any children not be harmed. A confidential source immediately passed the conversation transcripts on the the FBI.

"Pence's family had legally adopted five of the intended victims' children ... there was an escalating dispute between the two families such that the intended victims desired to regain custody of their children and were involved in the reporting of Pence's family to local child welfare authorities, both of which reportedly angered Pence," stated FBI special agent Brian DeCarr. [PDF]

"Furthermore, Pence and the intended victims did not agree on how the children should be raised or the personal choices and lifestyle of the intended victims."

Pence transferred cryptocurrency to the apparent assassin totaling around $16,000, but appears to have had a change of mind and tried to cancel the contract a few days later. He didn't get his money back but nor did he try to warn the potential victims, the government investigators noted.

The FBI National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force identified the cryptocurrency exchange used in the transactions and issued a request for information, and a subsequent grand jury subpoena. The exchange promptly coughed up Pence's full details, including a copy of his driving license, and the IP addresses used in transactions - 66 out of 67 of which were Pence's home address and the other to his mobile phone.

When interviewing the potential victims the couple reported recognizing some of the photographs Pence had sent to the apparent killer as being taken for commemorative "baby books" exchanged between the two families, DeCarr noted.

After being arrested Pence admitted his crime to investigators and, when asked if he wanted anything from the house before being taken away, reportedly answered, "I'd like a time machine if you have it."

Pence's sister set up a GoFundMe page to support the family after the arrest, noting that he "has been accused of a terrible crime that did not involve any harm or misconduct to the children or his wife and did not involve any infidelity." So far it has raised $3,420.

Despite his job with Microsoft, Pence appears to have been particularly tech unsavvy - not only in expecting that you could actually hire a professional killer online via the dark web, but also in seriously overestimating the anonymity of Bitcoin transactions and those that facilitate them.

Pence, 43, admitted one count of use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of a murder-for-hire plot and was sentenced to 84 months to prison by Judge David Norman Hurd in the District Court for the Northern District of New York. This will be followed by three years supervised release. ®

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