Baltimore City

Pastor who conspired to kill for insurance admits targeting others

A Baltimore pastor who paid a hit man $50,000 in church funds to kill someone for life insurance payouts bought similar indemnity policies on his boyfriend when the pair were fighting, along with contracts on the man's mother and daughter, he testified Friday in city Circuit Court.

He canceled them after time, however, "because we were getting along," he said.

The admission was one of many confessions Kevin Pushia offered from the witness stand during the trial of his alleged accomplices, brothers James "Omar" Clea and Kareem Clea.

Pushia said he was in a relationship with one man, but also having an affair with Omar, whom he asked for help in killing Lemuel Wallace, a legally blind and mentally disabled group-home resident. Omar then introduced him to Kareem, who agreed to be the hit man for cash, said Pushia, who had taken out $1.4 million in insurance policies on the disabled man.

Wallace was shot multiple times in the head and back on Feb. 4, 2009, the same day Pushia noted in his day planner "LW project completed."

The Clea brothers have pleaded not guilty in the murder-for-hire case, and their attorneys have suggested that the men are being framed by Pushia, who they say is testifying to get a better deal.

He pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit the murder, along with seven counts of insurance fraud, but he has yet to be sentenced. Prosecutors could recommend higher or lower prison terms based on his performance, defense attorneys said.

But Pushia, who's facing a maximum term of life plus 105 years, claims he's cooperating because "I need to make things right with myself and with God."

His testimony Friday was often defensive, smug and confusingly contradictory, filled with self-corrections and conflicting statements.

"Nobody is completely truthful," Pushia conceded at one point during the trial, noting that he has done his best to live an honest and religious life.

He pushed back when defense attorneys questioned him, sometimes refusing to answer altogether until the judge instructed him to do so. He often said one thing, only to reverse himself later.

He received a $90,000 check after the church burned down, he said, then conceded that it might have been $156,000, after being confronted by a defense attorney. He claimed he wanted to cash in the life insurance policies on Wallace, but couldn't because he was arrested before he had the chance. Later, he said it was because his conscience wouldn't let him.

"I felt guilty," he said.

The inconsistencies appeared to weaken his credibility on the stand. Two jurors were chastised for falling asleep as he spoke.

Police discovered the crime when an insurance agent called to ask if Pushia was a suspect in Wallace's death, a routine question for an insurance company. The pastor was listed as Wallace's brother on a $200,000 policy.

A few weeks later, in April 2009, police executed a search warrant on Pushia's home and found "numerous life insurance policies in the name of Lemuel Wallace," according to a police statement of charges. They also found Pushia's day planner there, with the notation saying the "project" was done.

A defense attorney asked Friday why he would write such a thing down, but Pushia couldn't say.

"I don't even know why," he said, prompting the attorney to respond: "Is it possible you have some mental illness?"

Once police began investigating, Pushia confessed and implicated Omar Clea as the leader in the crime, telling law enforcement that he went through with the scheme because Omar was blackmailing him by threatening to reveal his homosexuality to his church parishioners, who numbered around 30.

"I was trying to blame him for what was being done," Pushia said on the stand. Pushia also said he replaced his own name with boyfriend Jason McFarland's on at least one of Wallace's insurance policies, ostensibly to protect himself from implication in the murder.

"I had power over all his finances," Pushia said, explaining that McFarland had schizophrenia but wasn't taking his medication. McFarland earned about $700 a month in disability payments, Pushia said, and also received payments for taking care of two foster children.

"He was able to get care of foster children even though he was schizophrenic and not taking medication?" asked an incredulous James Gitomer, Kareem's defense attorney.

Pushia, who also cared for two foster children, who were removed from his home shortly before his arrest, answered in the affirmative.

He also admitted to taking out insurance policies on McFarland along with McFarland's mother and daughter, but he said he later dropped them.

The trial is expected to continue next week.