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Sunday, June 25, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Alleged murder-for-hire plot described in court documents

Seattle Times staff reporter

Last March, at the one-year anniversary of her husband's murder, Velma L. Ogden-Whitehead returned to the scene of the crime to demand the killer — apparently a vicious carjacker — turn himself in.

King County sheriff's detectives, meanwhile, were piecing together a different theory: that Ogden-Whitehead herself had arranged a murder-for-hire scheme to kill Ronald Whitehead.

The scheme, described in court documents released Saturday, included paying $1,000 to a then-16-year-old friend of her son to hide in the trunk, then shoot Whitehead as he drove to work at Boeing on March 18, 2005.

She profited from "a large amount of insurance money" from the crime and was making plans to move to Arkansas, according to the documents. When confronted by detectives, Ogden-Whitehead's son and friend allegedly admitted to the crime, detectives say.

Ogden-Whitehead, 48, and her 18-year-old son, John J. Ogden, were arrested Friday on suspicion of first-degree murder.

At a court hearing in the King County Jail on Saturday, King County prosecutors asked for $5 million bail for each defendant. But King County District Court Judge Fred L. Yeatts ordered them both held without bail because, he said, the case was serious enough to qualify for capital punishment.

King County prosecutors plan to file charges against the mother, son and the alleged gunman early this week, possibly Monday. Ogden's friend is being held in King County juvenile detention on an unrelated charge. The Times generally does not name minors unless they have been charged as adults.

Prosecutor Carla Carlstrom said the charges would be murder, but she said she did not know if her office would file the aggravated-murder charge that could result in the death penalty. As a minor at the time of the crime, Ogden could not be put to death in Washington.

Ogden-Whitehead gave numerous interviews to local media over the past year, and she helped raise about $16,000 in reward money. Her public pleas did not help or hinder the investigation, said sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart.

"This was a matter of putting a lot of little bits of information together over several months before it pointed to these three people," he said. "More of those little bits and pieces will be released in the charging documents."

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Whitehead, 61 and a career Boeing employee, was shot about three miles from the house in Des Moines that he and his wife had bought a decade before. Witnesses described seeing Whitehead's slumped body being pushed from his black Mustang, then hearing three more shots, including one to the head.

The car was found later a few miles away, and detectives presumed Whitehead had been killed in a carjacking.

The court documents released Saturday give sparse details of the subsequent investigation. Detectives at some point found evidence that Ogden-Whitehead had given her son's friend a prepaid cellphone, and they confronted the teen.

The friend, after waiving his Miranda rights, told authorities he hid in the trunk and shot Whitehead for $1,000, according to court documents. Ogden, after he was arrested, confirmed the story to detectives, describing how he had referred his friend "to his mother as someone that could help her get rid of Mr. Whitehead," according to the court documents.

Ogden, the documents said, also told detectives that he had text messages sent to the prepaid phone laying out the murder plans.

It was unclear from the court documents whether Ogden-Whitehead had also cooperated with detectives. Urquhart and prosecutor Carla Carlstrom declined to elaborate on the evidence until charges are filed, and attorneys for Ogden-Whitehead and her son declined to comment.

Despite her past accessibility to the media, Ogden-Whitehead, wearing red jail coveralls Saturday, demanded that she not be photographed during yesterday's court hearing. Yates consented to the request and to a similar one from her son.

Angela Ogden, Ogden-Whitehead's 23-year-old daughter, said she knew nothing about the allegations or evidence against her mother or stepbrother.

"It's unbelievable. It's unbelievable," she said.

She said her grandparents live in Arkansas and that her mother had talked about moving out of her Des Moines house. But her mother had not discussed leaving the area, she said.

She said she talked with her mother and brother Saturday. Her mother sounded scared, she said. "She's never been in a place like that," said Ogden, referring to jail.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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