Our report from the courtroom.
Tim Lambesis after his arrest last year
Who is Tim Lambesis? That was the central question in a packed Vista, California, courtroom on Friday, as a judge sentenced the As I Lay Dying frontman to six years in prison for trying to hire a hitman to murder his wife. As family members and Lambesis himself spoke about the case, it became clear that why, exactly, this 33-year-old musician ended up behind bars is still a hotly contested matter of debate.
As Noisey has previously reported, Lambesis was arrested last May on charges that he’d devised a plot for a hitman named “Red” to murder his estranged wife, Meggan Murphy (formerly Lambesis). The supposed hitman was actually an undercover cop working for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, and, after Lambesis’s arrest, prosecutors said Lambesis had given Red everything he needed to get the job done, including photos of Meggan and the gate code to her condo complex.
In the Vista courtroom, Lambesis spoke about his charges. Turning to face Meggan—who was sitting in the front row beside her parents, Michael and June—he broke into tears and admitted that he’d done something wrong.
“I do want to apologize, and I do feel a deep sense of remorse,” he said, as Murphy stared defiantly back. “I want to thank you,” he continued, his face glowing red, seemingly unable to make eye contact. “In the midst of all the heartache, you still find the strength to pray for me, and I’m thankful for that.”
For all the attention paid to Lambesis, Friday’s hearing in many ways belonged to Murphy. A group of about three dozen family and friends—including three of Lambesis’ former As I Lay Dying bandmates, Nick Hipa, Phil Sgrosso and Josh Gilbert, who’re now playing in a new band, Wovenwar—showed up early to get seats, and pinned yellow felt hearts to their chests to show their solidarity. The group rolled so deep that Lambesis’s attorney, Tom Warwick, made a special request to the judge to bring in more chairs so Lambesis’s supporters could also attend.
Appearing in public after a year spent living under the radar to maintain her safety, Murphy opened up about her ordeal. Taking a big breath, she said she was once “entirely devoted” to Tim, but was devastated when he told her in an August 2012 email that he was leaving her for someone else. After she filed divorce proceedings against him, she said Lambesis became bullying and abusive. When she found out he was plotting against her, she was terrified but also somewhat unsurprised.
“I think, instinctively, I knew he was dangerous,” she said. To this day, she has trouble feeling safe and secure. “I am plagued by vulnerability.”
During the hearing, Judge Carlos O. Armour was presented with clashing narratives about Lambesis’s personality and motives. Murphy’s parents, Michael and June, each delivered blistering statements, painting Lambesis as abusive and narcissistic, often detached from his children but willing to use them as tools when he wanted to get Murphy killed: According to Michael, Lambesis learned Murphy’s gate code by watching his kids punch in the numbers when he was bringing them to her one day.
Last year, Lambesis’s attorney, Warwick, said that Lambesis had suffered brain damage as a result of using steroids. When she spoke in Friday’s hearing, Deputy District Attorney Claudia Grasso dismissed that defense, saying it was a flimsy and illogical excuse for what she called a calmly calculated plot. She argued that Lambesis wanted to get Murphy killed because she was an inconvenience.
“He was so eager and willing,” Grasso said of Lambesis. “Not full of rage, not irritable.”
Warwick, speaking on Friday, insisted that Lambesis’s crimes were the result of abusing steroids. Shifting the blame, Warwick turned his sights on the personal trainer who tipped off the police to Lambesis’s criminal intentions, saying the trainer was the one who originally sold Lambesis steroids. Warwick also argued that Lambesis didn’t carefully plot out his wife’s murder, but instead was following directions from the undercover officer/hitman, who instructed Lambesis to supply photos, addresses and money.
“He was clearly broken,” Warwick said of his client. “He was clearly not himself.”
So, who is Tim Lambesis? Judge Armour said he himself wondered just that. During his closing remarks, Judge Armour said he wasn’t sure if Lambesis’s crimes came as a result of steroids use, since lots of men who use steroids don’t try to get their wives murdered, and vice versa. He acknowledged that Lambesis had a clean record but said he found it particularly disturbing that Lambesis would use his kids to advance the murder-for-hire plot.
Ultimately, Judge Armour said it must be a “flaw of character” that possessed Lambesis to commit his crime.
“This was, in the court’s estimation, a premeditated, well thought-out act,” Judge Armour said.
Judge Armour credited Lambesis 48 days for time already served but also imposed a 10-year restraining order barring Lambesis from coming in contact with Murphy and their three kids, who were adopted from Ethiopia. He’s likely to never see the children again: Warwick said Lambesis had permanently given up his right to see them, bowing to Murphy’s demands. Lambesis, decked out in a crisp blue dress shirt and black tie, was led away in handcuffs.
Outside, as people milled around after the hearing, the sun beat down on North County. It’s been dry, hot and windy here lately, and brushfires have been burning in the region all week, leading to thousands of evacuations. In Vista, the air was clear and the sun was shining, but you could detect a faint smell of ash in the breeze.
Standing near the entrance, Lambesis’ father, Nick, looked dazed as friends and family comforted him. “I’m kinda speechless,” he said, when I asked if he had a comment. “What can I say?”
Nearby, a group of Murphy’s friends stood in a circle, their yellow hearts still pinned to their chests. They declined to do an interview. But before they waved me off, one of them said: “We love Meggan, and we’re glad she’s alive.”
Peter Holslin is a music journalist living in San Diego. He's on Twitter - @PeterHolslin
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