LAS VEGAS -- A 34-year-old mother of four was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole for getting her ex-convict lover to kill her husband, a U.S. Air Force service member from Guam, so they could collect $650,000 in life insurance.
Michelle Antwanette Paet sobbed and apologized during an emotional court hearing that pitted her family's pleas for her to someday have a chance to see her children again against her husband's family's calls for her to remain forever behind bars.
"As a woman of faith, I forgive you, because your soul clearly needs forgiveness," said Carmelita Paet, mother of Staff Sgt. Nathan Paet and now legal guardian of the Paet grandchildren. They ranged in age from 2 to 9 when their father was shot dead and their mother was arrested in December 2010.
Carmelita Paet described the children, even after months of therapy, as jumpy about loud noises and afraid that their mother might do to them what she did to their father.
"Life without the possibility of parole, and nothing less," she urged the judge.
Paet didn't face the death penalty because she pleaded guilty in October before trial.
Michelle Paet's mother, Constance Quintanilla, also traveled from Guam for the hearing. She sought a chance at parole for her daughter so the children might once day "hear from their mother the things a mother needs to say."
Clark County District Court Judge Douglas Herndon used the words "incomprehensible," ''devastating" and "unfathomable," and said he wondered how Michelle Paet could spend weeks plotting the murder with boyfriend Michael Rodriguez while tucking her children in at night and sleeping next to Nathan Paet as if nothing was wrong.
Herndon said he wasn't convinced by the defendant's claim that she'd been duped by Rodriguez and became powerless to stop the slaying. Prosecutors said Nathan Paet's life insurance was worth $650,000.
"You were much more involved than you're willing to admit," he said.
Rodriguez was convicted of murder, conspiracy, burglary and weapon charges by a jury that heard that Michelle Paet sent Rodriguez a text to alert him that Nathan Paet was coming out the door of their Las Vegas home, late for work at Nellis Air Force Base.
"He's rushing to get out the door. Lol," one message said.
Nathan and Michelle Paet had been high school sweethearts. He joined the Air Force in 2002, and the couple married in 2006.
Nathan Paet was gunned down in his garage, and prosecutor Michelle Fleck noted Thursday that he died in front of the children while Michelle Paet feigned horror and surprise.
Just hours after the killing, Michelle Paet texted a smiley face to Rodriguez, Fleck said.
"I was emotionally vulnerable," Michelle Paet said as she sobbed, dabbed her eyes with tissues and mourned the death of "a wonderful man with a loving soul."
"I made a huge mistake and a really bad choice and I'm truly sorry," she said.
Rodriguez and an accomplice in the shooting, Corry Hawkins, who took a plea deal before trial, each face life in prison without parole. But their sentencings have been postponed while they challenge their cases.
Hawkins' former girlfriend, Jessica Austin, pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to commit murder. Her sentencing is scheduled in June.