A secret code-word phrase, a supposed Hell's Angels hitman and a $500,000 life insurance policy are among the details contained in Tuolumne County Superior Court records which accuse an Adventist Health Sonora nurse of attempting to hire someone to kill her husband.
Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office investigators believed the husband of Heidi Butler, 38, was in immediate danger and served a search warrant at her home in Sonora on Sept. 11, just hours after her coworker procured audio evidence of her intentions during a recorded phone conversation.
Law enforcement confiscated a gold Apple iPhone 10, a white HP desktop computer and a black Apple iPad Pro during the execution of a search warrant, which was acquired by The Union Democrat through a public records request this week.
Underlying the search was a weeklong investigation prompted by a tip from Butler's nighttime ICU nurse coworker Deana Gore, according to the 21-page document filed in Tuolumne County Superior Court.
Gore said she was shocked and discomforted by Butler's first attempts to involve her in the plot.
"I gave it a couple of days. I knew it wasn't a joke. So I switched into gear where I knew I had to do something or this man was going to die," Gore told The Union Democrat on Friday.
Gore said she doesn't know Butler's husband, Jeremie, but felt caught up in a "waiting game" until the investigation resulted in Butler's arrest.
"I am a coworker and I was a friend, so it's been tough for my family and I and our coworkers, too," Gore said. "To have the coworker come to someone and ask them to find out how to kill their spouse is shocking. I mean, Heidi and I were good work friends but we had never hung out outside of work. It's not like we were close friends or family."
Gore said she was not concerned about her safety at this time, but felt some disquiet about learning Butler was released on bail.
"It would have been really shocking to run into her in town knowing my involvement," Gore said.
Gore said she could not comment on the details of the investigation or her involvement as detailed in the court documents.
Butler's attorney, Public Defender Scott Gross of Sonora, said in an email that Butler's family wanted to make a "unified statement."
"The stress of (the) Covid-19 National Pandemic took its toll on our family, both of us work hard in our respective careers,” the statement provided by Gross said. “The silver lining here, is this situation has brought us together closer than ever. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We will get through this united.”
The document stated that in the course of the week, Butler allegedly asked Gore about firearms, shared ideas on how to make the murder look like an accident and suggested she would be willing to split a $500,000 life insurance policy she had on her husband for anyone who was willing to help.
On the morning before the search warrant was executed, according to the document, Gore contacted Butler using an unidentified secret code-word phrase and the pair discussed Butler's failed attempt to contract a Hell's Angel into committing the murder for $10,000.
Butler appeared in Tuolumne County Superior Court on Monday for the first time since being released on bail and re-submitted a not-guilty plea in her case. She bailed out of custody from the jail on Sept. 22 after a judge lowered her bond from $1 million to $100,000.
A 12-page statement of probable cause describing the investigation into Butler and the allegations against her was obtained from a sergeant with the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office. The statement was also written by Det. Jeffrey Lee with the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office Investigations Division.
The following narrative was referenced in the statement of probable cause that was used to convince a judge to sign the warrant.
On Sept. 3, the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office was forwarded an email tip by the FBI, indicating that a woman employed with Adventist Health Sonora had possibly solicited a coworker to assist with killing her husband.
The tip was originally sent to the Sonora Police Department and forwarded to the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office when it was determined that the subjects involved resided in county jurisdiction.
The email was written by Special Agent Matt Kamilos with the FBI, employed at the Sacramento Stockton Resident Agency Office, the document stated.
Kamilos said he was contacted by Gore on Sept. 1 about the allegations.
"Deana said Heidi can come across very nice and sweet, but tends to be a very hateful and angry person," he wrote.
Kamilos said Gore told him Butler approached her on Aug. 30 to complain about her husband, Jeremie. Butler then allegedly asked Gore if she had any firearms and if they were traceable.
"As the conversation went on, Deana said it became clear to her Heidi was inquiring about ways to possibly kill her husband, Jeremie," Kamilos wrote.
Gore told law enforcement they worked together at the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital during the night shift. Gore said she had worked there for two years and for those two years, Butler was also employed there.
Butler then allegedly told Gore she searched how to kill her husband in "private browsing mode" and said she could split the proceeds of a $500,000 life insurance policy she had on her husband if someone could help her. She said she did not want to have to pay alimony if they split up.
Gore later told law enforcement that Butler often expressed dissatisfaction in her marriage, "with one of the root causes being infidelity on both sides."
Kamilos indicated Gore was concerned because she believed she was the only one Butler told about the plan. He added that the FBI could not do further investigation because there was no "federal nexus for the crime."
When a Tuolumne County Sheriff's sergeant contacted Kamilos on Sept. 4, he said Gore contacted "a friend who works in law enforcement" about the conversation with Butler and that friend relayed the information to him.
Just after the call with Kamilos, the sergeant contacted Gore over the phone, who repeated the allegations to him. Gore added Butler asked if bullets were traceable and wished her husband died during a past surgery.
Gore told the sergeant Butler needed to find somebody who would be willing to kill him for her, according to the statement.
"She mentioned that she wished she knew somebody that had ties to the Hells Angels who could shoot him or throw a rock through the windshield of his car while he was driving to make it look like an accident," the document said.
Gore "described Butler as having a serious look on her face during this conversation" and indicated she did not feel Butler was joking.
Butler also inquired to Gore over text messages to reach out to another nurse at the hospital and ask if she was willing to find someone. Butler believed the other nurse might know someone who could carry out the act because she grew up in the foster care system. When Gore spoke to the other nurse, the other nurse indicated she wanted to stay out of the situation completely.
The statement noted that it was initially Gore's idea to record Butler, to which the sergeant responded that if she did, she was doing so with her own free will because it was a potentially dangerous situation.
Gore added that they did not have an acrimonious relationship at work, and she was not aware of any professional misconduct allegations against Butler.
At the time of the investigation, Gore said she was moving to North Carolina in a month.
The sergeant then followed up with the details of his own investigation, noting through law enforcement records that Butler was twice listed as a suspect for misdemeanor domestic battery in 2016. He confirmed an association with Jeremie Butler (though there was a different address listed for him) and noted she did not have a record of possessing registered firearms.
The case was transferred to Lee on Sept. 10, who contacted Gore and agreed to meet her at the Sheriff's Office at 9 a.m. on Sept. 11.
After their introductions, Gore agreed to have her messages and audio recordings downloaded into a Sheriff's Office digital data management system.
Lee then audio and video recorded an interview with the coworker, who provided an "almost identical" statement to the ones provided to the Sheriff's Office sergeant and the FBI.
During that meeting, Gore agreed to a "pre-text phone call" to supply the investigator with information. She returned to the Sheriff's Office at 2 p.m. that day, where the investigator provided her with questions and responses on a piece of paper. She was instructed to word the questions in her own vernacular.
Gore then sent Butler an unidentified "code word" which she said indicated she had found someone to kill her husband. She sent the message through Facebook and when Butler did not return the call after five minutes, she left with the investigator's department issued phone recorder.
The statement said Gore called the investigator at 2:38 p.m. to notify him she talked to Butler, who confirmed her desire to kill her husband.
When Gore returned to the Sheriff's Office with the audio recording, she was "nervous, scared and shaking," the investigator wrote.
"Butler discussed specifics on how she would like it done, and she also stated that she heard there was a Hell's Angels that would charge ten thousand to do it. Butler made attempts to contact the Hell's Angels subject but wasn't successful," the investigator wrote.
About 5 p.m., the other nurse who was asked to be involved met with the investigator. She said she worked with Butler for six years and was familiar with Butler's marriage unhappiness. She agreed to provide cellular data to the Sheriff's Office regarding text messages from Butler discussing the life insurance policy and wishing her husband was dead.
That night, the search warrant was executed and Butler was arrested.
The search warrant was signed by Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Kate Powell Segerstrom on Sept. 11 and allowed Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office deputies to search all outbuildings, shed, garages, attics and crawl spaces or containers at her home on Woodduck Lane in Sonora. It also allowed deputies to search Butler's vehicle, though it was not identified if a car was searched or if anything was located. The search specified mostly electronic devices, electronic data storage devices and written documents.
A night search was requested.
The detective in the case wrote Butler and her husband and children lived together, which prompted the need for a search warrant because he believed the husband's life was in "immediate danger."
Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Kevin Seibert set a preliminary hearing, or a hearing where it will be determined if there is enough evidence to bring the case to trial, for 8:30 a.m. Nov. 13.
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at email@example.com or (209) 588-4526.