Carter County

Man charged with hiring 'hitman' to kill deputy

Man charged with hiring 'hitman' to kill deputy

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - A Johnson City man is facing charges after police say he had a murder-for-hire plot against a Carter County Sheriff's Deputy.

The quick action by the Carter County Sheriff's Office and a tip from someone in the community may have saved a deputy's life. "No doubt in my mind, after seeing interviews and evidence in this case, this was serious," says Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes.

Mathes tells us they received a tip about a murder-for-hire plot against a deputy. Mathes says 37-year-old Thomas Ken Owens, also known as T.K. Owens, of Johnson City was the mastermind behind the plot. He's being charged with solicitation of first degree murder. "I'm going to be very public about this -- you're not going to threaten one of my officers," adds Mathes.

Mathes tells us after they received the tip, the Carter County Sheriff's Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations started an extensive undercover investigation.

The TBI report says Owens and the undercover 'hitman' met at a local sports bar in Johnson City Thursday, where they agreed on a $2,500 plot to kill the deputy. "$500 was given in advance. [Owens] also supplied a photograph of our deputy in uniform," says Mathes.

Mathes says Owens also provided the home address of the deputy.

We learned from the sheriff the target was deputy Earnest Widby, who is Owens' uncle and a minister in addition to being a deputy. "The victim in this case, I'll just go ahead and tell you is one of the finest men I've ever met in my life. I have the highest respect for him," adds Mathes.

Mathes believes the plot came after a spiritual dispute between Owens and the deputy. "In today's society, unfortunately some of our churches and church members have become targets for what they believe in," Mathes said.

We learned Owens has a pending charge in Carter County of solicitation of a minor.

Owens was arraigned in Washington County, Tennessee Court Friday morning.

At last check he was still in jail on a $100,000 bond.

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