PANAMA CITY, Fla. (CBS Tampa) – A local man has been arrested, and is being held by authorities in Louisiana, after he allegedly conspired to torture and kill two Bay County Circuit Judges.

According to WMBB-TV, the suspect behind the murder plot – 46-year-old Joseph Russell Schmitt – was ultimately discovered and taken down by an undercover operation coordinated by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. An officer with the force, Capt. Jimmy Stanford, reportedly pretended to be a hired hitman that would work with Schmitt on the murder.

His targets were said to be Judge Allen Register and Judge Christopher Patterson, who he was connected to through previous cases.

Stanford told the station, “Pretty quickly, he indicated that he was willing to reward me for abducting Judge Patterson and Judge Register, having them secured in a remote location, chained to the floor until he could get there and torture them, and then we would … kill them.”

Police learned through Stanford’s communications with Schmitt that he had been located in Texas at the time, but was traveling back to Bay County to commit the crime.

“We stepped up the security for these judges,” Stanford said. “[W]hen we knew he was on the way here, we provided personal protection for them so its kind of changed every ones lives the past two weeks. We’ve kind of had to walk on egg shells.”

Schmitt was soon apprehended with the help of a task force with the U.S. Marshal’s Office and the Bossier City Police, ending an operation that lasted over two weeks.

WMBB learned that Schmitt is now facing multiple charges, including burglary and domestic violence in addition to conspiracy.


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