Inheritance at the heart of SLO dark web murder-for-hire trial, prosecutor says

The trial of a Riverside man accused of trying to orchestrate the murder of his stepmother using a dark web assassination site began with opening statements Monday in a San Luis Obispo courtroom.

Beau Evan Brigham, 33, of Riverside, faced the first day of a jury trial charging him with solicitation of murder for logging onto an encrypted internet website and requesting that advertised hitmen kill his stepmom.

Brigham allegedly told police his stepmother was leaving him for dead because of an illness.

Brigham has pleaded not guilty to the charge, the details of which Deputy District Attorney Michael Frye laid out in his argument, saying that Brigham and his brother stood to gain a third of their father’s trust bequeathed to them if his stepmother, Laurie of San Luis Obispo, were dead.

Frye said that a London-based internet security analyst named Chris Monteiro, who works as a cyber-crime investigator as a hobby at night, was alerted to Brigham’s request for a hit on his stepmom on a dark web website called Besa Mafia, which has changed its names multiple times to avoid authorities.

Frye said the messages on the dark web site, sent in March and April 2018, provided Besa Mafia with Brigham’s stepmother’s maiden and married names, a photo, a description of her car, and two of her possible addresses in SLO, as well as attempts to process a bitcoin payment to Besa Mafia with urgent requests, saying “look, I need this f---ing person dead.”

Frye said the messages stated that the assassins needed to make the murder “look like an accident.”

Frye noted the Besa Mafia website administrator never intended to commit any killing and was just trying to bilk people like Brigham out of money, urging Brigham to send more at one point.

Police get a confession

After San Luis Obispo police were alerted to the messages that Monteiro had uncovered requesting his stepmother’s killing, they asked her if she could think of anyone who might try to harm her — and her two stepsons came to mind as possibilities, though she didn’t think they were capable of doing something like that, Frye said she told police.

But when police interviewed Brigham at his biological mother’s house in Palm Desert, Frye said, he admitted to going onto a “stupid site” to get Laurie’s attention, saying he did it in a “moment of rage.”

Frye said Brigham told police “I probably sent something on that site, I don’t know.”

As police inquired further, Brigham told them he “felt disrespected by Laurie” for leaving him to die, according to the prosecutor.

It’s unclear what specific illness Brigham may have had, and Frye said police couldn’t tell what precisely was ailing him when they arrived at the home.

San Luis Obispo defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu, left, and client Beau Brigham appear in a scene from CBS News’ ”48 Hours: Click for a Killer,” which aired in September. Brigham, a Riverside resident, is accused of soliciting the murder of his stepmother, who lives in San Luis Obispo. CBS News/48 Hours

Laurie was married to Brigham’s father, a former owner of Bay Area bars, for 12 years. He set up a trust that allocated a third of his wealth each to her and his two sons.

But Beau and Brandon Brigham sued Laurie over her handling of the bars as a trustee after her husband’s death.

Among the evidence previewed, Frye said investigators found Brigham misspelled the word “supposedly” in the same way in messages to Besa Mafia and in writings on his personal computer at home. They also discovered on Brigham’s computer that he had searched for one of his stepmother’s addresses on Google and set up digital exchanges for bitcoin, the prosecutor said.

Frye also noted a cropped image of her head sent to Besa Mafia was similar to a photo on Brigham’s computer of her and Brigham together.

The defense’s strategy

But defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu asked questions suggesting he’ll attack Monteiro’s credibility as a witness.

Funke-Bilu elicited information from Monteiro as the first prosecution witness to take the stand that he didn’t graduate from college in information technology, and the attorney questioned the authority of some of Monteiro’s published writings on topics related to cybersecurity.

In a pre-trial motion hearing last week, Funke-Bilu honed in on how Monteiro could determine with accuracy the origins of messages sent on the dark web site.

Frye said in his opening statement that messages are designed not to be traceable on the dark web, accessible through encrypted browsers called “Tor” browsers once a dark web URL address is known.

Judge Jesse Marino ruled Monteiro an expert in the case.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.