PARIS – Mark Ambrose had a plan to regain custody of his 10-year-old daughter from his ex-girlfriend and her new husband: Have the couple killed.

William Stewart, a buddy in his cell block at the Oxford County Jail, said he knew someone who could get the job done. It would cost Ambrose $5,000, paid at $100 a month.

Ambrose basked in the idea of him and Stewart sitting in the jail, enjoying jailhouse burritos – a popular snack in the lockup concocted with nacho chips, Ramen noodles and hot water – and know the job was being done.

At least that’s what Ambrose appeared to believe.

Ambrose, 31, of 101 Hancock St., Rumford, pleaded guilty Thursday to criminal solicitation to commit murder as part of a plea bargain to drop a second charge. Oxford County Superior Court Justice Roland E. Cole sentenced him to six years in prison, all but 11 months of that sentence suspended, and four years of probation.

With credit for four and a half months already served awaiting sentencing, Ambrose has five and a half to go at the state prison.

Ambrose stood at the podium in a Paris courtroom Thursday with his attorney as Assistant District Attorney Richard Beauchesne outlined the details of the charges against him.

Ambrose had been in the jail since April 6, 2006, when he violated his probation for criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. He was eligible for release the next month.

Ambrose had plotted the murders for weeks in Stewart’s 80-square-foot jail cell. He thought Stewart was relaying information to a hit man when really it was going to Oxford County Detective Lt. Hart Daley.

Ambrose thought the people who came to visit him were the would-be assailants.

Really they were undercover officers.

Cole on Thursday asked Ambrose if he would like to speak, and he softly mumbled a few words. Leaving the Oxford County courthouse Thursday in an orange jail garb, cuffs and shackles, he smiled and gave two thumbs up as he was led to to a van that would take him to his prison sentence.

The plot

Ambrose was plotting to burn his ex’s and her husband’s eyeballs with cigars and stick razor blades in their fingernails, according to Stewart.

The proposed crime was heinous, and it pained Stewart to listen, but he knew he had to play along, he said. In doing so, he’d save two lives, and hopefully shave some time off his sentence.

While his cellmates thought he was seeing his attorney, really Stewart was being coached by Daley on what to say to Ambrose. Daley needed certain evidence such as photos, letters with comparable handwriting and finally a taped confession.

Stewart and Ambrose would plot inside Stewart’s cell with the door closed so other inmates could not hear. Stewart told Ambrose the hit man would need information, and Stewart could get it to him.

One day in early September, Stewart gave Ambrose some good news: two men would be coming to see him. “These are bad dudes,” Stewart said he warned, telling Ambrose that he better watch his step.

The jail’s no-contact room was bugged, and the trap was set. Ambrose gave the men explicit instructions, and then his parents’ address as a surety that he would pay up.

He left with a sense of accomplishment – until he was intercepted by Daley.

Later, corrections officers came into the cell block with black garbage bags to collect Ambrose’s things. He wouldn’t be back.

Mental illness

Defense attorney John Jenness said the scheme never would have happened.

“Realistically there was never a possibility of this ever occurring,” he said in court, later adding, “in his limited capacity, he thought it would be done.”

Ambrose, who dropped out of school after ninth grade, has an extensive criminal history coupled with a long list of mental illnesses. During his court appearance, Cole questioned him extensively over his competency to know what was going on at that moment.

“Mark has a serious history of depression and substance abuse,” Jenness said, describing the plan as an “ideation grandiose.”

Stewart, however, said that Ambrose’s ambitions were so strong that he would have found someone had he not intervened.

Ambrose’s mental ailments were not psychosis, Jenness said.

“He has had a very tough life,” Jenness said, citing substance abuse problems. Someone in Ambrose’s position feels “like the world is crashing down on you.”

Beauchesne acknowledged Jenness’ remarks, but said, “He has the criminal capacity to commit the crime.”

Telling his story

Ambrose was rearrested and transferred to the York County Jail, which has tighter security.

Stewart, who was visiting with family that night, was patted on the back by corrections officers. The inmates in his block knew something was up, they just didn’t know what.

“They told me not to worry, I would never see Mark again,” he said.

Stewart, in jail for violating his probation for assaulting his ex-wife, got out in November. He contacted the Sun Journal wanting to tell his story, and on Jan. 2 he spoke for more than an hour with a reporter and an editor.

Not everybody heralded Stewart as a hero, he said. Friends of Ambrose’s picked fights with him in the block. He said two corrections officers called him a snitch. He was transferred into a different block, although it wasn’t immediate.

“They put me through a lot of hell,” Stewart said. “They did a lot to me.”

Thursday, Daley verified Stewart’s help on the case.

“He just kind of played the game,” he said.

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