What is the dark web?
A San Luis Obispo jury found a Riverside man guilty Wednesday of trying to hire a hitman on the “dark web” to kill his stepmother.
The case was the first in San Luis Obispo County involving a crime on the cryptic online platform.
Beau Brigham,whose case was featured on CBS TV show “48 Hours” in 2018, was found guilty of one count of solicitation of murder.
The 33-year-old faces up to nine years in state prison when he’s sentenced Sept. 10, according to the criminal complaint.
The verdict came late Wednesday following a roughly two-and-a-half week trial and about one full day of deliberations.
After the verdict was read and jury excused, Brigham was taken back into custody of San Luis Obispo County Jail, where he will remain without bail pending his sentencing.
A gag order placed on the case by Superior Court Judge Jesse Marino had prevented either party from commenting on the case prior to the verdict.
But outside the courtroom Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Michael Frye, who prosecuted the case, said it was the most complicated he’s had in his career.
“I’ve done 15 or 16 murder trials and this had so many different components,” Frye said. “The dark web is a whole new area for me. ... There’s so much that goes on on the dark web.”
Defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu said afterwards that he was disappointed with the verdict but had “no doubt the jury was fair.”
“They handled this case with sensitivity and were very conscientious,” Funke-Bilu said. “The jury felt sympathetic to my client, that he needs help, and I agree with them.”
He said Brigham suffers from somatic symptom disorder, a delusion characterized by an extreme focus on physical symptoms such as pain and fatigue, which causes major emotional distress and problems functioning.
“This is how the system treats the mentally ill, with incarceration rather than treatment,” Funke-Bilu said.
Regarding the case, Funke-Bilu said that no one was ever in any danger due to Brigham’s actions.
“My client never left his bed, and he never deposited money (to carry out the hit),” he said.
During the trial, Frye alleged that Brigham made the attempt to hire an assassin in order to gain access to inheritance money from his stepmother, who is a San Luis Obispo resident, and whom he blamed for leaving him for dead amid an unspecified illness.
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 with urgent requests, saying “look, I need this f---ing person dead.”
The messages stated that the murder needed to “look like an accident.”
Frye argued that the Besa Mafia website administrator never intended to commit any killing and was just trying to con people like Brigham out of money.
Brigham’s communications were discovered by Chris Monteiro, a self-described cybercrime, dark web, and internet security researcher.
Monteiro shared the information with a CBS producer, who in turn alerted San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow.
Monteiro, a British citizen, almost didn’t testify in the trial due to legal and visa issues. During his testimony, Funke-Bilu attempted to discredit him, in part because Monteiro was convicted of possessing child pornography in the United Kingdom.
Calling the hacker a “profound criminal,” the defense argued that prosecutors didn’t search his technological devices because they didn’t want to get too closely involved in a case that relied on hacking to get information.
According to testimony, Brigham told police that he may have logged onto a “stupid” website to get his stepmother’s attention in a rage when they asked him about the alleged hit order, an assertion Frye rejected.
“This is not something he did in a passing rage, something he did in a vegetative state,” Frye said. “Actions speak louder than words. He pushed send (when he made the hit order).”
Staff Writer Matt Fountain contributed to this article.