Was motivation speaker's death a suicide?

March 3, 2011 3:07:39 PM PST
From the start, the man accused of killing motivational speaker Jeffrey Locker told a startling tale: He said Locker asked for help stabbing himself to death so his family could collect life insurance money. Six months later, evidence is mounting that Kenneth Minor may have told nothing but the truth, prosecutors and Minor's lawyer say.

"Certain information has been discovered which tends to lend some support to that claim" - including findings that the debt-ridden Locker had bought numerous insurance policies, changed their beneficiaries and researched funeral arrangements online not long before he died, prosecutors said in a letter last month.

While prosecutors say they haven't reached any new conclusions about Locker's death, defense lawyer Daniel J. Gotlin asked a court Wednesday to tell them to pursue lesser charges than the murder and robbery counts Minor now faces.

Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman set a court date next month to discuss the issue.

"It's a new one on me," she said.

Locker, 52, was found bound and stabbed to death in his car near an East Harlem public housing complex on July 16. He had called his wife hours earlier to say he'd be a little late getting to their Long Island home because he was going to drop off two people who were helping him fix a flat tire on his station wagon.

Intent on "bringing spirituality into the business world," Locker had been hired by numerous companies to give workshops on dealing with workplace stress and frustration, according to his Web site.

But he also was grappling with financial stress of his own. A federal bankruptcy court trustee in Florida sued Locker in April, demanding he give back at least $121,200 in bogus profits he made as an investor in a $300 million Ponzi scheme run by boy band impresario Louis Pearlman, the mastermind of 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys.

Locker told that court in a May letter he was an innocent, duped investor and would have to declare bankruptcy if forced to repay the money.

"I am severely in credit card debt and my business is just paying my family's bills," wrote the father of three.

Locker's financial problems were on his mind when he approached Minor on an East Harlem street and asked Minor to kill him, offering his ATM card and credit card as payment, the suspect told police after his July 21 arrest. Locker said he'd given all his cash to a man who had agreed to kill him but instead took off with the money, Minor told police.

The two were strangers. Minor, 29, is a sometime computer technician with a criminal record, according to authorities.

After hearing about Locker's woes, Minor "said that he started to feel bad for the guy," police said.

At Locker's direction, he tied the motivational speaker's hands behind his back with wire, got a knife out of Locker's glove compartment and held the blade while Locker repeatedly lunged into it, Minor wrote in a signed statement.

"He said it had to look like a robbery so his family can get what they deserve," he wrote.

Minor was later seen on videotapes withdrawing cash with Locker's ATM card, prosecutors said.

"My client is being used by somebody who comes in from the suburbs, and he goes into the ghetto and hires somebody" to kill him, Gotlin said outside court Wednesday.

He wants prosecutors to ask a grand jury to lower the charges to promoting a suicide attempt and manslaughter, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Minor's current charges carry a possibility of life in prison without parole.

Assistant District Attorney Peter Casolaro said Wednesday that prosecutors still were investigating the circumstances of Locker's death.

Telephone calls to Locker's Woodmere, N.Y., home weren't immediately returned, and attempts to find a lawyer for his family were unsuccessful.