Ex-U.S. soldier, two others convicted of murder-for-hire plot in Philippines

Thai policemen escort Joseph Hunter, a former U.S. Army sergeant nicknamed Rambo, as he arrives at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand on September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom/Files Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former U.S. Army sergeant and two other U.S. citizens were found guilty by a jury in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday of taking part in a plot to murder a woman in the Philippines for money, prosecutors said.

Ex-soldier Joseph Manuel Hunter, Adam Samia and Carl David Stillwell were convicted of charges including murder-for-hire, which carries a mandatory life sentence, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed, but respect the jury’s verdict,” said Robert Ray, a lawyer for Stillwell, adding he planned to appeal.

Lawyers for Hunter and Samia could not immediately be reached for comment.

Hunter, 52, is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams on Sep. 7. He is already serving a 20-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2015 to separate charges of conspiring to kill a federal drug agent and an informant.

Samia, 43, and Stillwell, 50, are scheduled to be sentenced by Abrams on Sep. 14. Samia is a self-described “personal protection/security industry” professional trained in tactics and weapons, while Stillwell’s resume says he worked at a North Carolina firm that provides firearms training, according to court filings.

Prosecutors said Samia and Stillwell traveled to the Philippines and murdered a woman there in February 2012, and were each paid $35,000 by Hunter. The woman was shot multiple times in the face and left on a pile of garbage, prosecutors said.

The first charges against Hunter stemmed from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation that followed the arrest in Liberia in 2012 of Hunter’s boss, Paul Le Roux, the Zimbabwe-born head of a multinational criminal organization.

Le Roux subsequently agreed to cooperate with authorities. He admitted to shipping drugs and weapons around the world and to having ordered various murders, and ordered a fake murder-for-hire operation to help authorities catch Hunter, according to court records.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney