Trish Bennett, Editor
CIRCLEVILLE – The woman convicted in a murder-for-hire plot against her husband’s ex and mother of his children will spend the next seven years behind bars for the crime.
Tara J. Lambert, 33, was sentenced Wednesday by Judge P. Randall Knece in Pickaway County Common Pleas Court for one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder in the charge involving Kellie Cooke of Lucasville. In addition to seven years in state prison at Marysville Reformatory for Women, Lambert also was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
Lambert was found not guilty of the same charge involving Cooke’s current husband, Shawn, on Jan. 27 following a three-day jury trial.
She faced a maximum penalty of 11 years in state prison for the first-degree felony charge.
James Kingsley, Lambert’s attorney, requested Lambert be sentenced to community control based on her psychiatric evaluations prior to the trial, but the prosecutors disagreed, stating they had offered Lambert a four-year sentence in a plea agreement prior to trial but would now accept whatever sentence the judge felt appropriate in the case.
Judge Knece said he felt a strong prison sentence was justified, along with five years of post-release control with an ankle monitor upon completion of her prison sentence.
Lambert offered a statement to the court prior to hearing her sentence, in which she accepted responsibility for her actions and cited her mental health issues as their cause.
“I am no longer a threat to Kellie Cooke and her family with proper counseling and medication,” Lambert said. She also said she could not change what happened, but “can only move forward and prove I’m not the monster portrayed in this trial.”
Lambert even choked up toward the end of her statement when she said, “While the jury was told not to consider mercy, I hope this court can consider it.”
However, as the judge discussed her sentencing, Lambert attempted to argue with him, saying she tried not to go to the meeting with the undercover hit man that led to her arrest. She also said she had thousands of dollars but only brought $100 to pay for the crime.
“I heard all that at the trial,” Knece responded. “The jury heard it, too, and they didn’t buy it, either.”
Knece also said there had been a lot of talk about Lambert’s emotional stability and psychiatric state before, during and after the trial, but some of what he read in the file that was not admitted in court was more telling than others.
He said Dr. Jolie Brams, the psychiatrist who testified for the defense on Lambert’s behalf, wrote that Lambert appeared to be incredibly psychologically fragile, but she didn’t find Lambert credible and thought she was exaggerating.
“That’s your own professional,” Knece said. “She’s saying you were trying to pull a scam on her.”
He also said Brams “took a shot” at Lambert’s mother during the trial, stating Lambert had been out of control since eighth grade with little or no parental guidance or supervision, and with the information presented, he could not disagree.
“The old saying, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child,’ has come home to roost,” Knece said. “And because of that, you’re going to prison.”
Knece also commended the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office for their quick action in arranging for an undercover detective to pose as a hit man once the plot was discovered in July.
“This is a felony of the first degree; that’s just one step below murder,” Knece said. “The only thing standing between you and that charge right now is that you were talking to an undercover officer that day.”
In their victim impact statement, Shawn Cooke called Lambert “an evil, manipulating, conniving and self-absorbed human being” and asked the judge to show no compassion or consideration in her sentencing.
Cooke said the family still lives in daily fear that the stranger they randomly encounter might be the one hired to take their lives.
“That day changed our family forever,” Cooke said. “That day, two people did die. The two that died were the people we used to be…”
He also said Ginny Cheadle, the informant who contacted deputies about Lambert’s plan, was a hero but also is now one of Lambert’s victims and has to fear for her safety as well.
A complete transcript of the victim impact statement can be found here.
Lambert was arrested July 28, 2015, by detectives from the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office and accused of attempting to hire a hit man to kill Kellie Cooke over a visitation issue involving the two teenage daughters she shared with Lambert’s husband.
According to court testimony, Lambert approached a former high school classmate, Ginny Cheadle, to see if she knew someone who needed extra cash and might be up for the job. Cheadle took the information to the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office, and detectives moved quickly to arrange for an undercover Franklin County deputy to play the part.
Lambert met with the undercover deputy July 28, 2015, in the parking lot at KFC in Circleville and paid him $125 in cash as a down payment for the job. She also provided him with a photo of Kellie Cooke and information about her home, vehicles, work habits and other details.
Lambert was arrested about 20 minutes later leaving the nearby Walmart store. She was released on bond and had been under house arrest until her conviction. Since that time, she has been held without bond in the Pickaway County Jail awaiting sentencing.
This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal