When Kathleen Dorsett heard her ex-husband scream in agony in the backyard of her home in 2010, she finished changing their daughter’s diaper knowing that her father was carrying out their plan to kill the man by hitting him in the head with a heavy cable.
She then went outside to help her father put Stephen Moore’s body in the trunk of a car.
Dorsett, a 38-year-old former third-grade teacher, and her parents pleaded guilty Thursday to their roles in Moore’s murder and the attempted murder of his mother. They told a judge they were angry about the divorce decree and custody arrangements for the couple’s daughter, who was then 20 months old.
Dorsett pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, attempted murder and second-degree conspiracy to desecrate human remains. Her father, Thomas, pleaded guilty to murder and arson-for-hire. The mother, Lesley, admitted that she conspired to have Moore’s mother killed before she had a chance to testify at trial.
Kathleen Dorsett said that on the day of the slaying in August 2010, she sent Moore to the backyard of her Ocean Township home, where her father was waiting to kill him.
After father and daughter loaded the body into a car, Thomas Dorsett admitted he drove the vehicle to Long Branch and then hired someone to set it on fire the following day.
In Thursday’s court hearing, lawyers and the defendants revealed how frustrating family problems turned into a murder plot.
A few years after they married, prosecutors said Kathleen began telling her father there were problems in the marriage and that she did not think Moore could provide for the family. Authorities would not elaborate on those details.
Thomas Dorsett said he provided for his daughter’s family while she was married and that he helped take care of his granddaughter, who lived two houses away.
“That’s all I did,” he told the court.
Thomas Dorsett and Moore’s relationship grew increasingly hostile. He acknowledged in Thursday’s hearing that he had considered planting drugs on Moore or killing him earlier.
At one point, prosecutors said, Moore reported Thomas Dorsett to the state’s child services agency claiming the grandfather was mistreating the girl. The details of an investigation there were not revealed.
Assistant prosecutor Marc Lemieux told a judge that a divorce decree further strained the relationship among Moore and the Dorsetts.
According to a copy of the June 2010 decree reviewed by The Associated Press, Moore and the Dorsett family were all moving to Florida. The Dorsetts were to find Moore a home within 25 miles of theirs, subsidize his rent, help find him a job and waive any claim to child support until he got a job there.
Lesley Dorsett, 68, told the court she conspired with her daughter – who at the time was in jail for her ex-husband’s murder – to have Moore’s mother killed.
“The goal was to kill (her) because we were afraid she was going to testify,” Lesley Dorsett said.
The women were also upset Moore’s mother was awarded temporary custody of Kathleen Dorsett’s daughter.
Lesley Dorsett said she took an envelope with Moore’s mother’s name on it, stuffed it with cash and handed it over at a department store to someone she believed was a hit man. But the supposed hit man was actually an undercover cop and Lesley Dorsett was soon arrested.
Kathleen Dorsett faces 58 years in state prison, with no parole before 51 years. Thomas Dorsett faces 50 years in prison with no parole before 30 years. Lesley Dorsett faces eight years in prison with no parole before seven years. All three are scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 8.
Moore’s mother, Evlyn, told reporters after the hearing she was glad to see the guilty pleas.
“I’m satisfied today as I will ever be,” she said. “I feel that Stephen has gotten justice today.”