BY TONY STICKLEY



Seeking a hitman to kill his partners became John Russell Patten's way of escape.



Last May, 35-year-old Patten was jailed for three and a half years - reduced after an appeal to two and a half - when he admitted trying to procure the murder of his de facto wife, Pamela Fay Wood.



Yesterday, in the High Court at Auckland, Patten pleaded guilty to an identical charge relating to his former wife, Sharon Patten.

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Two other charges of attempting to procure the murder of his ex-wife's father and brother were dropped.



Justice Hansen remanded Patten, a flooring contractor formerly of Paritai Drive, Orakei, for sentencing next month and ordered pre-sentence and psychiatric reports.



In court to hear the guilty plea were Sharon Patten - who now uses her maiden name, Sharon Powell - and on the other side of the room Pamela Wood, who is standing by Patten while he serves his time.



In a brief summary read to the court, prosecutor Charles Cato said that in September 1992, seven months after the Pattens married, Patten was arrested after planting a number of petrol-filled containers around the couple's South Auckland home.



He was initially charged with the attempted murder of his wife, but the charge was reduced and he was convicted in May 1993 on a charge of possessing incendiaries as restricted weapons.



In the time between being charged and convicted, Patten started referring to his wife in derogatory terms and told his business partner and friend, Wayne Jordan, how she spent too much money - something he would repeat about Pamela Wood.



Mr Cato told the court: "He then began to talk about how he would be better off if Sharon were dead and stated that he could be mortgage free if she died because he would get the insurance and everything else she owned."



Patten then offered Mr Jordan $30,000 to kill his wife.

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At first Mr Jordan did not think he was serious, but over the next few weeks Patten insisted and Mr Jordan became increasingly worried.



Mr Cato said Patten suggested a number of ways for the job to be done, including an apparent accident.



The requests to commit the murder ceased only when Patten broke his wrist after falling off a ladder and was no longer able to work with Mr Jordan.



It was only in 1996, after the couple had separated, that Sharon Patten learned of the attempts to have her killed.



Mr Jordan had told a young police officer in his church group about the conversations with Patten, but the matter went no further at the time.



Outside court, the officer in charge of the case, Detective Sergeant Greg Cramer, said publicity over Patten's attempt to take out a contract on Pamela Wood prompted his former wife to come forward.

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In that case, Patten offered undercover police officers $10,000 to kill Pamela Wood.



"She is going out like a typical bloody woman - she spends everything," he told the officers.



After yesterday's hearing Pamela Wood refused to comment.



Sharon Powell said she was just glad the ordeal was over.



"I definitely think he would have gone through with it," she said. "I know what he is capable of. The motive was money."