Bashara found guilty in murder of his wife
Detroit — Robert Bashara slumped and shook his head as the jury foreman read aloud the verdicts that will keep the former Grosse Pointe Park businessman behind bars for the rest of his life.
Guilty on all five charges, including first-degree murder, in the murder-for-hire slaying of his wife, Jane.
The former Rotary club president was tight-lipped as a deputy led him out of Wayne Circuit Judge Vonda Evans' eighth-floor courtroom, bringing an end to the trial that featured nine weeks of often salacious testimony, 74 witnesses and 460 exhibits.
Bashara's somber courtroom demeanor was in stark contrast to the reaction of Jane Bashara's aunt, Barbara Naeyaert, who said via telephone after the hearing: "There is a Santa Claus. This is the best news I could have gotten today."
Added Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy in a written statement: "May Jane now truly rest in peace."
Prosecutors said Bashara hired his handyman, Joseph Gentz, to kill his wife so he could collect her 401(k) and life insurance money and live a full-time bondage, discipline and sadomasochistic lifestyle with his longtime girlfriend, Rachel Gillett.
Jane Bashara was killed in her garage, prosecutors said, and her body was found in her Mercedes-Benz SUV in an alley on Detroit's east side.
Gentz pleaded guilty to killing her and is serving up to 28 years in prison. He did not testify during the trial. Bashara is serving up to 20 years in prison for solicitation of murder for trying to have Gentz killed in prison.
Within minutes of the announcement that a verdict was forthcoming, the courtroom filled; not one seat was empty by the time Bashara was brought in. His trial has been a media frenzy for the 10 weeks since jury selection began. Jane Bashara's family was not in the court when the verdict was read.
The jury of nine men and three women found Bashara guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, solicitation for murder, witness intimidation and obstruction of justice. They were whisked from the courthouse without discussing their decision with the media.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 15, but two of the counts, first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, carry automatic life sentences. The victim's family will get an opportunity to address the court during the sentencing hearing.
Jurors deliberated for less than three full days before reaching the verdict. Deliberations started last Thursday, but jurors went home after about an hour. The panel deliberated all day Friday, and then Monday the proceedings were halted about noon because Bashara suffered from a medical condition and was unable to attend court.
Bashara appeared wan Thursday, but prior to the verdict being read, he told Evans he felt fine. Then, when the foreman, juror No. 9, read the guilty verdicts, Bashara showed a bit of emotion, tossing up his hand and tapping the defense table in apparent disgust.
"His reaction was pretty easy to see," said Bashara's attorney, Michael McCarthy. "He did not say anything ... he conducted himself with proper decorum. He's in shock; very disappointed with the verdict, and that's an understandable position for him to have.
"Even if you are kind of thinking that it might happen that way, or you are thinking there is a large probability that it happens that way, when it actually happens that is a totally different thing, because you can always hope up until the jury speaks," McCarthy said.
Bashara did not testify in his defense.
Earlier Thursday, deliberations became heated, as an argument could be overheard coming from the jury room.
"I'm tired of this," one of the jurors was heard saying in a loud voice as the group huddled in the jury room, next to the courtroom.
However, in the hallway after lunch, the jurors were joking with each other and appeared jovial, leading to speculation a verdict could be close.
Evans told the jurors before the verdict announcement that she approved of the heated discussion.
"We heard you screaming, but that's good," she said. "Because there was dialog, there's discourse.
"This has been a very long process. From the death of Mrs. Bashara to the charging of Mr. Bashara, to ultimately the verdict."
The trial took several unexpected twists and turns, with more levity than is usually seen in murder trials. Earlier in the trial, Evans said the laughter helped lighten the mood in an otherwise grim situation.
Several people who knew Bashara through the BDSM lifestyle took the witness stand, offering sometimes graphic testimony about practices and implements used in the sex dungeons they frequented. Bashara operated his own dungeon beneath a Grosse Pointe Park building that housed two popular night spots, Dylan's Raw Bar & Grille, and the Hard Luck Lounge. He also attended parties at other dungeons.
Some of the BDSM-themed testimony caused jurors to shift uncomfortably in their seats. Other witnesses had jurors laughing hysterically.
Bashara's co-counsel, Lillian Diallo said several times during the trial that she purposely avoided cross-examining any of the witnesses affiliated with the kinky lifestyle because it bothered her.
"The lifestyle ... I just kind of hate that so much of that played a factor in this trial," Diallo said after Thursday's hearing. "But the jury has spoken."
With the trial over, the two Bashara children, Robert Jr. and Jessica, will have to sort out complicated financial matters, in addition to struggling with their emotions, Naeyaert said.
"It's going to take a while to work things out financially," she said. "The rental properties, Jane's 401(k); it's all been on hold. Hopefully they can get all that figured out so they can get on with their lives."
Naeyaert said while Jane Bashara's family is happy with Thursday's verdict, there's still a lot of heartache.
"It's a good and bad day for the kids," she said. "It's bittersweet: They can get on with their lives, but this is their father."
Staff Writer Ursula Watson contributed.