The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

He allegedly wanted his ex-girlfriend dead because she was dating a black man. But his murder plot backfired, police say.

A mug shot of Keith James Cote filed to the Travis County Sheriff's Office in Austin. (YouTube/KXAN)

It seemed like a casual Sunday afternoon last year. Barbecue was on the grill. The Philadelphia Eagles were on television, stomping the Arizona Cardinals, 34-7. A former Marine named Joey Sees and his wife were spending the day at the house of an acquaintance, Keith James Cote. The homeowner, an independently wealthy 62-year-old who had reportedly used a wheelchair since a 2013 tumble at a Houston strip club, asked to talk to Sees alone on the patio behind his house in a leafy neighborhood in north Austin.

That’s when Cote floated the idea of a murder, police say.

According to a police arrest affidavit, Cote told Sees in October 2017 that he needed a “dirty deed, done dirt cheap.” He then asked the veteran if he could get a silencer and a 9mm handgun. Right there on the patio, Cote allegedly pulled out $10,000 and offered the money if Sees would kill Cote’s ex-girlfriend, SanDee Jones. He allegedly offered another $15,000 “to watch him put a bullet in her head.” Cote explained he wanted Jones dead “because she is dating a black guy.”

Sees wasn’t sure what to think — was this a joke? Or serious? Cote said that he knew Sees had seen combat in his five years in the Marines. The murder-for-hire would “be right up his alley,” he told the veteran.

“When we’re in a war zone, we’re just trying to get home and we’re just protecting each other. I guess he thought every Marine is a hit man,” Sees told Austin’s KXAN recently. “We’re not killers. We just do our job, but our job isn’t to come home and murder someone because she’s dating a black guy.”

The unsettling conversation was the beginning move in a sordid tale that eventually led to secretly recorded conversations, a police investigation and suicide.

But on that Sunday afternoon, the veteran Sees decided to play along with Cote. If he rejected the offer outright, Cote might find a more willing co-conspirator.

“I’m just glad he asked me,” Sees told KXAN. “I felt I was the right person to do it. [Cote] trusted me enough to think that I was that type of individual to murder someone. So, I knew that I wanted to handle this myself. I knew I had to do what I had to do and contact the police.”

Cote continued to ask Sees about the arrangement. Eventually, the veteran went to the police, who then contacted Jones, the target of the alleged murder plot. According to the Austin American-Statesman, she explained she had been in an abusive relationship with Cote for a number of years. He treated her like his property, she told police. But Jones said she hadn’t seen her ex since 2015.

“When asked why she believed Mr. Cote would want her killed, she confirmed that Mr. Cote is a racist and confirmed that she is now dating a black man,” the affidavit said. “She stated that the only thing Mr. Cote hates more than a black man was a white woman who is with a black man.”

“In the beginning, the man that hired Joey to kill me is not the man I fell in love with,” the Jones told KXAN. “I loved him at one point.”

Sees began working with investigators as he continued to plot with Cote, who allegedly told Sees that if he wasn’t in his wheelchair, he would have stabbed his ex-girlfriend himself with an ice pick and watched her die, the American-Statesman reported.

On one occasion, the two men allegedly drove in Sees’s truck to scout the location of the murder, Jones’s office. With a secret camera filming the conversation for police, Cote explained how Sees would need to sneak up on the woman as she was leaving work.

“That’s some thick brush, but I can make it through it,” Sees said in his car, surveying the landscape. “I’ve made it through thicker.”

“I would say just stay along the perimeter,” Cote counseled. “It’s dark and you’re a ninja.”

In their conversations, Cote told Sees “this ain’t about revenge, it’s about the reckoning,” Austin’s KVUE reported. Cote also allegedly told Sees he wanted to be in the truck when the hit went down so he could watch Jones’s death.

In late October 2017, police had what they needed, arresting Cote on criminal solicitation to commit capital murder.

He pleaded not guilty. The case, however, would not make it to trial. According to KXAN, after spending 11 months in custody, Cote bonded out last September while awaiting trial. He killed himself a week later. Police consider the investigation closed.

Sees and Jones, however, met for the first time only recently. As Jones told KXAN, she was only now able to properly thank Sees for saving her life.

“I’m getting to relief. I know I’m finally free because I knew I would never be free until he no longer breathed on this earth, even from jail [or] prison,” Jones told the television station. “I’ve lived terrified for the last year of my life, terrified for others — the people I care about, the people I love . . . I’m not in a body bag . . . Joey is the reason I’m alive.”

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