For weeks, Kevin Gates lived with the fear that his wife was trying to have him killed.
But he feigned ignorance.
"I did my very best to make her think I had no clue, because I wanted to catch her in this," said Gates, 43, of Westminster. "Any fear that I would have had was just [overridden] by anger."
The pretense ended Tuesday, when state police arrested Mary L. Gates, 46, saying she offered to pay an undercover trooper $6,000 to kill her husband.
She had provided a photograph of Kevin Gates, as well as a handwritten note with the UPS deliveryman's schedule and route to work, according to court documents.
Charged with three counts of solicitation of murder, Mary Gates now awaits a preliminary hearing scheduled for Jan. 2, according to court records, and was being held yesterday at the Carroll County Detention Center on $100,000 bail.
Reached yesterday, Gates' public defender declined to comment on the case.
For Kevin Gates, the arrest marked the culmination of months of watching his marriage of nearly three years fall apart.
Mary Gates was originally a friend of his former wife, Donna, he said.
"She was in and out of our house a lot over the years," Kevin Gates said, adding that she baby-sat for his son, Russell, now 17.
And when he and Donna divorced a few years ago, Gates said, Mary moved into his home. She needed a place to live; he needed someone to keep house and watch his children because of his long workdays.
"She kind of surprised me at first," Gates said. "I'd come home, and the house would be spotless."
The kids' grades were good. Things seemed to be going well. After seven or eight months, they grew to like each other more, he said, and married in March 2005.
When his former wife would allude to another side of Mary, Gates said, "I kind of brushed things off. ... I thought my ex-wife was doing this in retaliation."
But Russell Gates said he was wary of the woman he called Aunt Mary. The two didn't get along, both Gates men said. She'd annoy the teen, and he'd do things to irritate her, Kevin Gates said.
"I could sort of tell there was something about her," said Russell Gates, who is a junior in high school. "You just look into her eyes and think, 'This person is just vindictive and evil.'"
Both men described an incident in late summer, when she allegedly accused Russell Gates of hurting his younger sister, a middle school student.
Kevin Gates said his wife "insisted I kick him out of the house because he was a threat to my daughter." But he refused because "I knew she was lying."
"From there, it just went straight downhill," he said. "When I took my son's side, it got directed toward me as well."
About a month ago, Gates said, a neighbor told him that Mary Gates had asked about having her husband and stepson killed.
"Why in the hell didn't you tell me before?" Gates remembered asking.
The neighbor said he thought Mary Gates was joking.
"My wife is a very vindictive person," Gates recalled saying. "I wouldn't take this as a joke."
Mary Gates twice broached the subject of her husband's killing this year, according to court records.
"Do you know someone I can hire to kill Kevin?" she allegedly asked the same neighbor in March, court files show.
About three weeks later, she asked again, according to court records. "I've got to get away from Kevin and the kids," she allegedly said. "I want him dead. You have to help me." She alluded to her husband's $350,000 insurance policy.
Early last month, after the conversation with his neighbor, Gates went to the Carroll County state's attorney's office and was referred to the state police, who began an investigation.
Carroll Deputy State's Attorney David Daggett, who initially spoke with Gates, said the case was "an odd one. ... It definitely sounded like she was serious to me."
As state police investigated, Mary Gates made another attempt to hire someone to kill her husband last month, court records allege. Her friend Heather McNeal was staying temporarily at the Gates home, in a neighborhood that runs along the narrow Pinch Valley Road, an area with small hills and houses on spacious lots.
Mary Gates had heard that McNeal's former boyfriend was a gang member, so she asked whether he "would be able to help her murder her husband," according to court documents. In exchange for her help, Gates offered to buy McNeal a house with the life insurance money, court records show.
McNeal told Kevin Gates about his wife's inquiries, and he went to the state police with the new information, he said. In late November, McNeal went to police at the Westminster barracks with what she knew, and said Mary Gates had set Dec. 19 as the deadline for the crime, according to court documents.
After agreeing to have their conversation recorded, McNeal met with Mary Gates on the evening of Nov. 29, according to court documents. They sat in a car outside the house to discuss details: Gates confirmed that she still wanted her husband killed and said she could get about $1,000 together, court records show. She left believing that McNeal's former boyfriend, or someone else, would do the job.
Mary Gates met twice on Tuesday with an undercover trooper she thought was a hit man, according to court records. They agreed that the killing would be "made to look like a robbery" and that "her husband was going to be shot in the head," police said in court documents. "She was not concerned whether there would be an open or closed casket at the funeral."
Although he hadn't anticipated she would go so far, Kevin Gates said, he wasn't "extremely surprised" by his wife's alleged plotting.
"She's greedy, she's very self-centered, and when she doesn't get her way, she becomes very vindictive," he said. "She's like a little spoiled child."
Gates and his son said they worry about the possibility of her release. "If she gets out on bail, I'm concerned that she might come back after [the men], having nothing to lose at this point," Kevin Gates said. "A restraining order isn't really going to stop her."