Former Bloomingdale High teacher pleads guilty in murder-for-hir - WFLA News Channel 8

Former Bloomingdale High teacher pleads guilty in murder-for-hire case

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Former teacher James Pepe during his sentencing in court Monday. Former teacher James Pepe during his sentencing in court Monday.
Former teacher James Pepe during his sentencing in court Monday. Former teacher James Pepe during his sentencing in court Monday.
Former teacher James Pepe during his sentencing in court Monday. Former teacher James Pepe during his sentencing in court Monday.
James Pepe after his arrest in 2012. James Pepe after his arrest in 2012.
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

A former Bloomingdale High School teacher accused of plotting to kill another teacher will spend 12 months in house arrest as part of a plea deal.

James Pepe, who worked as an economics teacher at Bloomingdale High School, pleaded guilty on Monday to solicitation to commit first degree murder.

Pepe sat in a wheel chair and looked physically frail, as the state agreed to a plea deal.

In 2012, Pepe tried to hire a "hit man" to kill a former co-worker. Pepe offered $2000 to an undercover officer to have Robert Meredith killed.

Meredith was working as a social studies teacher at Strawberry Crest High School, but had previously worked in the same school as Pepe.

A longtime friend says Pepe was battling health issues and inner mental demons when he was employed as a teacher. Attorney David Addelman is from Buffalo, New York and says he's know Pepe since they were teenagers. Addelman traveled to Tampa to represent Pepe.

Addelman says Pepe was dealing with cancer, multiple health issues and stress and work and he believes at some point in 2012, Pepe suffered a breakdown mentally.

"His poor medical health has been exacerbated by stress from day to day life," Addleman said.

Addelman says he's not qualified to offer a mental health diagnosis, but he feels Pepe began to suffer from extreme paranoia. As a result of the paranoia, Pepe became convinced that Robert Meredith was trying to ruin his life.

"Unfortunately in 2012, Mr. Pepe had what I describe as a breakdown. That is not a medical diagnosis, it's just an observation, where he became very, very paranoid," he said. "He believed things were true, which clearly were not true."

Addelman says there is no evidence that Meredith was involved in Pepe's life at all and had taken no action against him. Addelman says it was just all in Pepe's mind that Meredith was acting against him.

"It went so far that he believed that this man was hacking into his computer, causing problems with his bank card. He actually believed that this man was relentlessly pursuing and had no intention of stopping," he described.

Recordings made by undercover officers do show that Pepe tried to hire someone to have Meredith killed.

Addelman says Pepe is now under medication and is no longer a threat to Meredith or anyone else in the community. He says Pepe is now simply embarrassed by his actions now that his paranoia is under control and he once again understands his actions.

"He has received treatment while he has been incarcerated, he's going to continue to receive treatment," said Addleman.

Under the terms of the plea deal, Pepe was sentenced to 12 months of house arrest followed by 14 years of probation. The charge carries a possible penalty of 30 years in prison

Pepe was also ordered to stay away from all schools as part of his sentencing agreement.

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.

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