A Knoxville woman has agreed to plead guilty to paying for a hitman via the dark web to kill someone she perceived as a romantic rival.
Melody Sasser, 47, and her attorney, Jeff Whitt, signed a plea agreement Monday with federal prosecutors, records show. She’s admitting specifically to a federal count of murder for hire.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne-Marie Svolto also signed off on the agreement Tuesday.
Sasser is being held in the Knox County Jail. Her next court date is in December in Knoxville, records show.
Authorities arrested Sasser earlier this year.
Her plan to kill the woman identified as “J.W.” started late last year.
From Dec. 31, 2022, through April she used the internet to contact something known on the dark web as the “Online Killer’s Market” in hopes of arranging J.W.’s murder for money.
She gave a contact the intended victim’s name, home address in north Alabama, work address, photo, schedule and vehicle descriptor. She knew a lot of that information because she’d been watching the woman and her husband in the fall of 2022.
It was important to Sasser, federal authorities say, that the murder look like an accident.
“It needs to seem random or accident. Or plant drugs, do not want a long investigation,” a recovered message reads, according to the government.
The plan wasn’t carried out.
An Alabama police department was alerted about the murder-for-hire order and officers went to interview the woman and tell her about the threat to her life.
J.W. mentioned Sasser as a suspect. She said that Sasser and her husband were hiking friends in Knoxville before he moved to Alabama, and Sasser had gone to Alabama in the fall of 2022 unannounced, after learning about the man’s and woman’s engagement.
The woman said the couple then started getting “unpleasant phone calls from a person utilizing an electronic device to disguise their voice.” She also told police that her and husband use a fitness tracking app when they hike, which is connected to their smartwatches.
When authorities searched Sasser’s Knoxville home, they found “a stack of U.S. currency underneath a sticky note that listed a Bitcoin address,” the plea agreement states. It was next to a piece of paper listing personal information about the victim.
They also found a journal at the home. It listed .onion URLs, most of which could be traced back to other hitman websites, usernames/password, a handwritten account of communications with Online Killer’s Market and an accounting of money she had paid to Online Killer’s Market, the government alleges.
They also found a laptop “that included a thumbnail photo of J.W. that matched the photo of J.W. that was sent to (Online Killer’s Market),” according to the plea agreement.
Evidence indicates Sasser had sent multiple Bitcoin payments by the internet that amounted to about $9,750.
With the plea agreement, the government said it wouldn’t oppose a sentencing break for Sasser. A judge will impose sentence.
Sasser faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release of up to three years.