O'Flaherty Sentenced in Death Plot
By Joyce Murdoch
A 52-year-old Gaithersburg man was sentenced to five years in prison yesterday for attempting to hire someone to kill his wife while he was having an affair.
Harold F. O'Flaherty, who is blind, pleaded guilty in January to one count of solicitation to commit murder. He asked for mercy during yesterday's 1 1/2-hour hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
"What I've done is exceedingly wrong," he said, adding, "I've gone to my wife and sought and received forgiveness."
O'Flaherty now is legally separated from his wife, Annette, who was not in court.
Although Judge DeLawrence Beard said he did not doubt O'Flaherty's remorse, he added, "If you'd been successful, you might well be facing the possibility of capital punishment."
Montgomery County police said O'Flaherty met a county detective posing as a professional killer at a Rockville motel parking lot in February 1992 and paid him $500 of a promised $3,000 to have his wife killed. O'Flaherty told the undercover officer that he wanted his wife killed "next week," provided a photograph of her and said his mistress would "jump for joy" at his wife's death, prosecutor George E. Simms said yesterday.
Police said the undercover officer first contacted O'Flaherty in January 1992 after the department received a tip that he wanted his wife killed. According to police, O'Flaherty said he wanted his wife's death "to look like an accident."
Defense attorney Michael J. McAuliffe asked Beard to limit his client's sentence to the 37 days already served. McAuliffe urged the judge to see the crime as a ludicrous aberration in a lifetime otherwise highlighted by professional achievement and community service: "The man went to a hot dog vendor to find a hit man."
The defense attorney also pointed out that his client's blindness would prevent him from doing most prison jobs, making it difficult for him to earn the time off his sentence that other inmates earn.
Simms, however, asked the judge to give O'Flaherty a four-to-nine-year prison term.
"Apparently he has never asked for any special consideration because of his handicap . . . and I ask the court not to let him start now," Simms said.
Beard gave O'Flaherty a 30-year sentence, suspending all but five years.
A pair of psychiatrists testified that O'Flaherty would benefit more from continued therapy than from imprisonment. Both psychiatrists said that partly as a reaction to his lifelong blindness, O'Flaherty flees problems through fantasies.
"He saw himself as kind of a Mafioso type, and he wanted to solve some problem by arranging this contract for murder," said Norman Wilson, a psychiatrist who practices in the District.
Wilson and Steven J. Hirsch, a Bethesda psychiatrist, said that they did not think O'Flaherty would have followed through with his plot.
At the time of his arrest, O'Flaherty was a policy analyst with the U.S. Public Health Service living in Gaithersburg. He has been suspended indefinitely without pay.