U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz will write today what could be the final chapter in the saga of Paul B. Luskin, the Baltimore native convicted in 1988 of plotting to have his wife killed to end a multimillion-dollar divorce fight.
After nearly 13 years in prison, Luskin has asked Motz to reduce his 35-year sentence, possibly to time served. The judge has indicated that he will trim the sentence, but left hanging until a court hearing this morning is the question of by how much.
The resentencing will be one more twist in a case that has stretched on for years in appeals and inspired a book with its stranger-than-fiction plot featuring an ugly divorce in South Florida and three botched murder attempts, including one in which the hit man posed as a flower deliveryman.
The attempts to kill Marie Luskin, now Marie Reitzes, were unsuccessful. She testified against her former husband at his trial in 1988 and said in an Oct. 6 letter to court officials that he shouldn't be freed until he accepts responsibility for the crime.
"Shouldn't he admit his guilt, accept his due punishment and make amends for his cruel crime?" Reitzes wrote. "Paul Luskin needs to stop lying to all of us, and get to work on his deep-seated anger."
Federal parole officials, who prosecutors say should decide on Luskin's release, also raised the issue of his accepting responsibility when they denied his request for parole in October 1998. Luskin has maintained his innocence, refusing to apologize even when it could have earned him a break.
"If it were true, the easiest thing for him to say would be that, because it gets him where he wants to be," said his defense attorney Herbert Better of Baltimore.
Before he was accused, convicted and imprisoned in the murder-for-hire plot, Luskin was a successful businessman and a major political player.
He operated an appliance store chain in South Florida (unconnected to the Baltimore appliance stores run by his uncle, Jack Luskin). He was asked in 1987 to co-chair a presidential exploratory committee for Colorado Rep. Patricia Schroeder and dined with U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins at her Florida home just weeks before his indictment, according to a 1988 letter to Motz.
Luskin was also in the midst of a bitter divorce, spurred in part by his affair with a former girlfriend whom he later married while in prison.
Just before his criminal trial, a judge presiding over the divorce case ordered Luskin to pay his former wife $2.5 million as well as $6,000 a month in alimony and child support for their two daughters. At the end of their 17-year marriage, she also got control of their home in Hollywood, Fla., a vacation home in North Carolina and about $1 million in commercial property.
Federal investigators argued that the high-stakes divorce proceedings were the motive behind the murder-for-hire scheme that unfolded in 1987.
Court records and trial testimony indicate that Luskin offered a business associate $50,000 to arrange his wife's killing. The first attempt was March 9, 1987, when a hired hit man, Milton "Sonny" Cohen of Baltimore, posed as a flower deliveryman outside the Luskins' home in Florida.
When Marie Luskin opened the door, Cohen demanded money and then struck her on the back of the head, knocking her to the ground, where she pretended to be unconscious.
Cohen, who was convicted for his role in the crime, said in court records that he used a blackjack to strike her. Prosecutors argued that she was hit by a bullet, although the wound was superficial. Investigators never found a bullet or bullet hole in the home.
Cohen went back to Florida twice more in the next four months with James Manley of Baltimore to try to finish the plan. For the third attempt, according to court records, Luskin offered a $25,000 bonus. The two men failed both times to even come into contact with Marie Luskin. As Manley and Cohen returned to Baltimore on an Amtrak train after the last try, they were arrested on gun charges for carrying a loaded AR-15 rifle, two loaded pistols and a silencer.
In a court filing this month, federal prosecutors noted: "Fortunately, persons who seek to retain the services of hit men rarely succeed in hiring the sort of trained, experienced and meticulous assassins we are accustomed to seeing on television."
Manley, later convicted of a lesser charge, led authorities to Luskin. Federal investigators in Baltimore pursued the case on the grounds that the scheme was devised in Maryland even though it was to be carried out in Florida. Within six months, Luskin, then 40, was indicted, convicted and sentenced.
Motz, who presided over the original trial, sentenced Luskin to 35 years in federal prison with no chance of parole for 15 years. Three other defendants in the case - chronicled in the 1997 book "Flowers for Mrs. Luskin," by Arthur Jay Harris - received sentences ranging from 22 years to 33 years.