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April 17, 2013

Robert Bashara charged in wife’s murder

Former Grosse Pointe Park businessman facing several other felony charges

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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Robert Bashara charged in wife’s murder
Surrounded by investigators, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy announces murder and other charges against former Grosse Pointe Park resident Robert Bashara during an April 17 press conference.

Already imprisoned for six to 20 years for admitting he hired someone to kill handyman Joseph Gentz, Robert Bashara is now looking at possibly spending the rest of his life behind bars for allegedly orchestrating his wife’s murder.

During a press conference April 17 inside the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy announced that Bashara, 55, of Grosse Pointe Park, had been charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, solicitation to commit murder, suborning of perjury during a capital trial, witness intimidation and obstruction of justice.

The first charge carries a sentence of mandatory life in prison without parole, while the next three charges carry a possible sentence of life or any number of years in prison. Witness intimidation carries a possible 15-year sentence, and obstruction of justice carries a five-year sentence.

The charges come a year and nearly three months after Jane Bashara was killed. Her family learned of the charges shortly before the press conference the morning of April 17, Worthy said.

Worthy said they wanted to undertake a thorough investigation before proceeding with charges against Robert Bashara.

“We are living in a TV era where everything is wrapped up in 44 minutes,” Worthy said. “That’s just not the way it happens (in real life).”

If the case goes to trial, Wayne County prosecuting attorneys Robert Moran — chief of special investigations — and Lisa Lindsey — lead prosecuting attorney — will be handling it inside the courtroom, Worthy said. Worthy declined comment on specifics of the case, including whether investigators had recovered DNA evidence or whether the clothes Jane Bashara was wearing at the time of her murder had been lost or destroyed, as had been reported previously.

Jane Bashara, 56, was said to have been murdered Jan. 24, 2012, at the Grosse Pointe Park home in the 500 block of Middlesex where she lived with her husband. Police said Robert Bashara called them at around 11:35 p.m. Jan. 24 to report his wife missing. Her body was discovered inside her abandoned SUV in an alley on Detroit’s east side, in the 19400 block of Annott, the next morning. On Jan. 31, 2012, handyman Gentz, 49, of Grosse Pointe Park, told investigators that Robert Bashara paid him to kill Bashara’s wife, and also that Bashara threatened Gentz if he didn’t go through with the murder. On Dec. 21, Gentz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and is now serving 17-28 years in prison for the crime.

Robert Bashara, who tried to hire someone to have Gentz killed, is also behind bars, having pleaded guilty Oct. 11 to a solicitation of murder charge in the Gentz plot.

Surrounded by investigators from Grosse Pointe Park, the Detroit Police Department, ATF, FBI, Michigan State Police, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office’s Criminal Investigation Bureau and elsewhere, as well as Lindsey and Moran, Worthy praised the collective effort of the investigative team assembled to work on this. She said 15 agencies — including some in other states — collaborated on an investigation that involved trips to Iowa, Illinois, Florida, Oregon and Texas, the interviewing of more than 200 witnesses, and the accumulation of roughly 5,000 pages of documents. Computers were forensically analyzed, as well, she said.

Worthy said at least one of the witnesses was asked by Bashara to leave Michigan to make it more difficult for investigators to interview that person.

“We are alleging that he was encouraging witnesses to lie under oath,” she said.

Worthy said Bashara also reportedly urged witnesses to call in false tips to throw off the investigation, which was part of the witness intimidation charge.

The case — whose twists have included Robert Bashara’s alleged involvement in the S&M world, the presence of at least one mistress, and the attempt to have Gentz killed — has garnered national media attention.

“I don’t know that I would use the word ‘strange’ (to describe the case),” Worthy told reporters in response to a question. “I would use the word ‘different.’ And certainly (it has) a lot of tentacles.”

As part of a deal in which Gentz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Jane Bashara, Gentz agreed to testify truthfully in any future court proceedings. His story to police last year is said to have changed several times, and Gentz is said to have an IQ in the range of 69 to the low 70s, leading some to speculate about his credibility as a witness. However, prosecutors are confident he’ll provide compelling testimony if the case goes to trial.

“We feel he’s going to be a very strong witness for us,” Worthy said of Gentz.

Worthy said she didn’t expect to be charging anyone else in this case.

“I’m confident that this concludes our investigation,” she said.

The Jane Bashara murder last January was the first in decades in Grosse Pointe Park, and law enforcement officials there are relieved to see that it might finally be coming to a close.

“This case is one we do not often experience in Grosse Pointe Park,” Public Safety Chief David Hiller said in a prepared statement. “I am grateful to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and to all of the numerous agencies whose assistance was invaluable in this investigation. I also want to thank the members of my department for all of the hard work they have put into this case. The charging of Robert Bashara means that there will finally be justice for Jane Bashara and her family.”

Bashara is being transferred from a Michigan Corrections Department facility to 36th District Court, Worthy said. At press time, the family home where the murder is believed to have occurred — a five-bedroom colonial — was listed online for sale at $399,000, a reduction from the original asking price.

Although a date for Bashara’s arraignment hadn’t been set at press time, Worthy said it would likely be scheduled during the week of April 22. She said it’s not known how long a trial might last, how many witnesses could be called to testify, or whether any of those witnesses might be members of the Bashara family.

Bashara has repeatedly insisted he didn't have anything to do with his wife's murder.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.