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Holyoke woman sentenced to probation in murder conspiracy

  • Cynthia Coons wipes her tears while exiting the stand in Hampshire Superior Court Nov. 30, 2017 where she pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Cynthia Coons talks to her defense attorney Marissa Elkins in Hampshire Superior Court Nov. 30, 2017 before pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Cynthia Coons heads up to the stand in Hampshire Superior Court Thursday while pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Cynthia Coons cries after exiting the stand in Hampshire Superior Court Nov. 30, 2017 where she pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Cynthia Coons stands in Hampshire Superior Court Nov. 30, 2017 before pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Cynthia Coons exits Hampshire Superior Court Nov. 30, 2017 after pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Cynthia Coons wipes her tears while exiting the stand in Hampshire Superior Court Nov. 30, 2017 where she pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Cynthia Coons, at right in Hampshire Superior Court, pleads guilty Nov. 30, 2017 to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@ecutts_HG
Thursday, November 30, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — A Holyoke woman was sentenced Thursday to five years of probation for her involvement in a murder-for-hire plot.

Cynthia Coons, 50, pleaded guilty in Hampshire Superior Court to a charge of conspiracy in the first degree. The intended target of the unsuccessful plot was the victim in a rape case against Jason Coons, Cynthia’s husband.

Jason Coons pleaded guilty earlier this month to charges of conspiracy in the first degree, intimidating a witness and two counts of aggravated rape. He was sentenced to 15 to 17 years in state prison.

The prosecution and Coons’ defense attorney, Marissa Elkins, presented the judge with a plea deal and Judge Richard Carey accepted the joint recommendation.

“Making this disposition much more difficult given the facts, this defendant and Mr. Coons conspired and engaged in acts … to hopefully result in the murder of an innocent victim,” Carey said. “It takes some leap of faith by the court to accept this recommendation.”

As part of the conditions of her probation, Coons was ordered to complete a mental health evaluation and any recommended follow-up treatment. She must also stay away from the victim in the case or the inmate who provided police with information. If she completes the first four years of her probation successfully, she may be eligible for early termination of her probation.

Upfront payment

While Jason Coons was being held on bail at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Corrections, he asked a fellow inmate for assistance in hiring someone to kill the woman in his pending rape case, Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jennifer Suhl said. The fellow inmate, identified in court by only initials, reported the incident.

The inmate then told Coons he knew a man named “Crazy” who could do the job. The two came to an agreement that Cynthia Coons would pay $500 upfront and Jason Coons would pay the remaining $4,500 once the case was dismissed, the prosecutor said.

The husband and wife discussed the arrangements in person during visitations as well as over the phone, referring to the potential killer as the “new lawyer,” Suhl said.

Investigators began listening to phone calls between the two and heard numerous conversations in which the pair discussed the “new lawyer,” payment information and plans to gather information on the woman to give to the “new lawyer,” Suhl explained.

An undercover Massachusetts State Police trooper playing the role of “Crazy” initiated contact with Cynthia Coons, who told the undercover trooper that she needed some time to get the money together, the prosecutor said. Coons’ roommate Elinor Roberge, 47, of Holyoke, became involved when she offered to help find another hit man to kill the woman, Suhl said.

Roberge has denied charges of conspiracy. She was released on conditions she stay away from the alleged victim, as well as Jason and Cynthia Coons. She must also report to probation in person weekly.

Police stopped the plot over concern that another individual had been contacted by the three to commit the murder.

Rehab ‘highly probable’

At the time of her arrest on April 26, Cynthia Coons initially denied the plot. After being confronted with the recorded jail phone calls, she admitted to the plot and said her husband had initiated it and was persistent, Suhl said. After hearing the facts of the case, Coons cried as she answered the judge’s questions.

“It is clear from the commonwealth’s review of the calls Jason Coons was the mastermind of the plot,” Suhl said. 

Suhl told the judge that while Cynthia Coons was initially resistant, she “overstated” her resistance to police and was in fact an active participant in the conspiracy.

In asking the judge to accept the plea, Elkins argued that Coons was diagnosed with a mental health disorder that made her susceptible to the kind of “incremental agreement” and “incremental bad judgment” which Coons displayed in this case. 

“Rehabilitation is not just possible but highly probable,” Elkins said, adding that Cynthia Coons “is not somebody who would ever come up with a plan like this herself.”

Suhl told the judge that while the victim in the case did not submit an impact statement or wish to be heard, she was in agreement with the sentence. Coons had been in jail since her arrest in April on $100,000 bail.

Following the hearing, she was taken back into custody because of a pending case against her in Holyoke District Court. In that court, she has pleaded not guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment of a child. That case alleges she allowed two minor girls to be in the same house as her husband, who is a registered Level 2 sex offender.

Coons’ former spouse, Chris Benoit, said he was disappointed with the sentence in Hampshire Superior Court. Benoit was not named in the case but said Thursday’s hearing has ripple effects in other cases.

“The action took place regardless of who the principal was and the parties all participated,” he said. “The punishment in this case to me doesn't necessarily fit the crime.”