A Bethesda lawyer was sentenced to 20 years in prison yesterday for conspiring with her best friend, a State Department employee, to kill the lawyer's estranged husband in what authorities said was a scheme to gain custody of two young boys.
A Montgomery County judge called the defendant, Elsa D. Newman, 50, a "danger" and said he wanted her imprisoned long enough that her sons, ages 6 and 9, could grow up without fearing she would harm them.
Newman, in a blue, jail-issue jumpsuit, showed little emotion and said only that she was "truly remorseful for everything that had happened."
She was convicted by a jury in August of conspiring in the Jan. 7, 2002, shooting of her estranged husband as he lay sleeping in his Bethesda bedroom next to one of their sons.
Her co-conspirator and best friend, Margery Lemb Landry, 49, pleaded guilty in September to breaking into the house, shooting Arlen J. Slobodow and planting child pornography in the basement. Landry, who worked in the State Department office that deals with parental abductions and international adoptions, was sentenced last month to 20 years in prison.
The attack followed a bitter court fight between Newman and Slobodow during which he gained custody of their two sons. Investigators said Newman and Landry -- close friends since their student days at Goucher College near Baltimore -- had accused Slobodow repeatedly of abusing the youngsters. Police found no evidence to support the allegations.
Newman's lawyer, Barry Helfand, said of his client, "If she's guilty of this crime, she's guilty of it because of her love for her children."
Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree, however, called Newman "one of the worst of mothers. . . . She is a dangerous woman. She wanted the man dead."
Prosecutors said Newman became desperate during the custody fight. During a hearing four months before the shooting, Newman's divorce lawyer told the judge that Newman had threatened repeatedly to kill Slobodow, then 51, and her children if she was not granted custody.
Newman's divorce lawyer testified at her criminal trial that Newman idolized Chevy Chase plastic surgeon Elizabeth Morgan, who gained worldwide notoriety in the 1980s after she went to jail and then fled to New Zealand rather than allow her daughter unsupervised visits with the girl's father.
Morgan, an advocate for parents of abused children, testified at Newman's trial that she had given Newman and Landry advice during the custody fight. Morgan said she tells women who believe their husbands are molesting their children that they can either obey court orders, flee with their children or kill their abuser.
In the early morning of Jan. 7, Landry, whom prosecutors described as Newman's "alter ego," donned a handmade ski mask, broke into Slobodow's home and shot him twice, wounding him in the leg. After Slobodow struggled with her and ripped off her mask, Landry fled. She called Newman twice before she was arrested.
Winfree said yesterday that Newman continues to affect the children's well-being. During her supervised visits with the children, she has told them that she is in jail for no reason, Winfree said. Once, she told them that she was a "wicked witch" and was headed to Siberia, she said.
"She will never give up," Winfree said in arguing for a long prison sentence for Newman. "She believes she is above the law. . . . She will continue to reach out from jail to interfere."