The strange trial of Stephen Allwine, a preacher accused of killing his wife

Prosecutors say Stephen Allwine, a United Church of God preacher, used Ashley Madison to find girlfriends to cheat on his wife.

Prosecutors say Stephen Allwine, a United Church of God preacher, used Ashley Madison to find girlfriends to cheat on his wife. Washington County

The trial began Tuesday for an IT specialist and former clergyman from Cottage Grove accused of commissioning Dark Web hitmen to kill his wife and -- when that plan failed -- carrying out the deed himself.

Stephen Allwine, 44, was charged with premeditated first-degree murder after his wife, Amy Allwine, was found dead on November 13, 2016, lying on her bedroom floor in a pool of blood with a gunshot wound to the right side of her head.

Stephen called 911 at 7 p.m. that evening, his voice vacillating between a quavering stammer and calm exposition, venturing that she shot herself.

Investigators quickly ruled out suicide, as no soot, gunpower stippling, blood, or brain matter could be found on Amy's hands. She was also right-handed, which was inconsistent with the gun being found near her left arm. A toxicology report found that Amy had in her system at least eight times the therapeutic dose of Scopolomine, a drug used in small quantities to treat nausea, yet in large quantities could render a person helpless. She did not have a prescription.

There were obvious signs that someone had wiped away some blood from the hardwood floor. Use of a chemical that reveals trace blood uncovered bloody footprints throughout the house.

But it wasn't until investigators performed forensic examinations of Stephen's multiple phones and computers that they uncovered evidence linking him to the crime, as well as a previously unsolved FBI case, Washington County prosecutor Jamie Kreuser detailed in her opening statements on Tuesday.

In early 2016, an anonymous internet personality with the username "dogdaygod" contacted the Dark Web website Besa Mafia, soliciting murder-for-hire. Besa Mafia was later hacked and its customer list exposed to the FBI, which became aware that dogdaygod wanted Amy Allwine dead.

Besa Mafia negotiated a $6,000 fee to murder Amy and make it look like an accident, to be paid in cryptocurrency bitcoin. Dogdaygod paid and gave Besa Mafia details of Amy's whereabouts that only someone close to her would know, but Besa Mafia kept stringing dogdaygod along, making excuses for why each murder attempt failed while asking for more money.

Eventually, Stephen made the "fatal mistake" of leaving a unique, 35-character bitcoin code on his iPhone that was matched against a transaction between dogdaygod and Besa Mafia, Kreuser said.

When it became clear that the hitmen were duds, Stephen, as dogdaygod, approached another Dark Web site to purchase the drug Scopolomine, the prosecutor said. Amy then received an untraceable email from an anonymous individual who threatened to kill her family if Amy did not kill herself. The FBI could never find the person responsible.

After Amy was found dead later that fall, Stephen told investigators that he had no knowledge of the Dark Web. That turned out to be false, according to the criminal complaint against him, as computer forensics later found that he had been accessing the Dark Web as early as 2014, and cookies for several Tors -- search engines used to search the Dark Web -- were installed on his phone around the same time that dogdaygod started looking for ways to murder Amy.

The state does not need to prove motive to prove its case, but Kreuser presented the theory that because Stephen was a lifelong member of the ultra-conservative United Church of God, eventually becoming a deacon and an "elder," he needed a way out from his marriage that didn't include divorce.

While ministering to married couples in his church, Stephen discovered Ashley Madison, a dating website for married people looking for affairs, the prosecutor said. He had several girlfriends while married to Amy.

"Sounds like an amazing story. Sounds like a TV show or a movie," Stephen Allwine's attorney Kevin DeVore responded in his opening statement.

DeVore dismissed the prosecution's case as a bundle of "distractions" built on computer analysis, yet lacking traditional evidence such as fingerprints, DNA evidence, recordings, and eyewitnesses. Just because Stephen had affairs doesn't mean he's capable of committing a murder, DeVore said.
Instead, he laid out a simple timeline of events on November 13, 2016 that purportedly shows how challenging it would have been for Stephen to commit the crime.

Stephen says he left Amy at their house at about 5:30 p.m. that evening to pick up their 9-year-old son from his grandparents' house, DeVore said. A neighbor claims he saw Amy moving boxes sometime between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Receipts show Stephen purchased gas before picking up his son at 6 p.m. The two then stopped at Culver's, and did not return home until about 7 p.m., when he called 911.

"Keep it simple," the attorney said, pointing to the neighbor's eyewitness account as proof that Stephen couldn't have committed the murder.

He left a trace of doubt for jurors to ponder: At the critical time of 5:40 p.m., neighbors recalled seeing two vehicles racing out of the neighborhood, kicking up gravel.