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Man Who Tried to Hire Hit Man to Kill Wife Given 15 Years

A Nevada judge sentenced a father of six to 15 years in prison Thursday for hiring a hit man to kill his American Fork wife of 28 years so he could freely live in Reno with his boyfriend.

Washoe District Judge Connie Steinheimer gave James Gau, 50, the maximum possible sentence. Gau will be eligible for parole in two years. She had denied his request for probation, saying it would send the community the wrong message.

Washoe County Courthouse
Washoe County Courthouse

James Gau had asked the judge for probation, and estranged wife Sheryl Gau also asked Steinheimer to give her estranged husband probation in the hope that her family could be reunited. She also worried that he could not contribute financially from prison.

“I understand that given your circumstances, you will not be in prison long before you are paroled, but I want you to be supervised because I think you are a predator,” Steinheimer told James Gau. “I have seen people like you the last 30 years and have heard women like your wife the last 30 years, and you are no different from what I’ve seen.

“You fit the (predator) profile perfectly.”

James Gau pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder for asking a police informant in July to go to his wife’s American Fork, Utah, home, pretend to be a robber and strangle her. He gave the “hit man” a family photo and her address.

Gau moved to Reno and left his family in Utah shortly after his son’s marriage in Carson City, Nevada, because he wanted to live as a gay man, according to police. In a statement to the court, he said he realized he was gay when he was 17 and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders told him if he believed in God and got married, he would become “straight.”

“My wife is a wonderful person, great mother, and my best friend, even though sex was difficult for me to perform and there were times of loneliness,” Gau said in the statement.

“I eventually left my wife to pursue a new lifestyle,” he said.

But feelings of guilt caused him to want to reunite with his family, he said. He said his gay friends were not supportive and said he was making a big mistake.

Gau said his boyfriend suggested his problems would go away if his wife were dead. To please his boyfriend and continue their relationship, he agreed to hire a hit man.

Gau apologized to his family and said he was in a fog when he asked the hit man to strangle his wife to avoid a bloody mess.

“He pulled the trigger,” Deputy District Attorney Luke Prengaman said. “Because as far as he knew, he had hired someone and then directed that person, knowing that guy was going to kill his wife.”

Steinheimer said it was just by the “grace of God” that the hit man was working with police.

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