Texas Love Triangle Murder Plot: Who Was the True Mastermind?

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'An Intense Affair'

Yvonne, who had just survived a bullet through the stomach, was about to get a shot to the heart. She learned from the police that the woman in the picture, someone who would stop at nothing to have her killed, was Michelle Gaiser – her husband's longtime lover.

Gaiser was an officer manager for another local law firm who had carried on a torrid affair with Jeffrey Stern for several years.

"They had an intense affair," explained Paul Nugent, Jeffrey Stern's attorney. "But she wasn't pressuring Jeff. ... There was zero talk about marriage."

Nugent claims that, unknown to Jeffrey, his mistress had developed a deep hatred of Yvonne. "Michelle Gaiser knew that Jeffrey Stern was very happy with his wife and his children, and maybe that's what she despised."

"She worked for a law firm by day," Nugent further explained, "and by night she was meeting with hitmen trying to murder Jeff Stern's wife."

Spending thousands of dollars, Gaiser had hired a revolving door of hitmen who, luckily for Yvonne, couldn't get the job done. By the third failed attempt, Gaiser was furious.

"She [Gaiser] literally cried when she learned that the hitmen failed and Yvonne didn't die," said Nugent.

Gaiser was finally arrested after she was caught on tape trying to hire yet a fourth hitman to murder Yvonne and then charged with solicitation of capital murder.

Yvonne initially did what one would expect – she called it quits. She filed for divorce and moved with the kids to their Aspen, Colo. vacation home.

But for the next few months, Jeffrey Stern sent flowers, called, wrote, visited, begged for forgiveness -- and, finally won her back. Despite the bad, Yvonne describes Jeff as her "soulmate" and decided their marriage was worth saving.

"He was a victim too, of (Gaiser's) trickery," Yvonne told Chris Cuomo. Her husband, she said, "had a moment -- (a) middle-aged crisis."

Yvonne Stern's forgivness was even more striking because police told her that they believed her husband was guilty of more than just infidelity. Jeffrey Stern, they alleged, was the mastermind behind the plot to kill Yvonne.

After her arrest, Gaiser had told police that it was Stern who initiated their affair -- that he wooed her with diamond jewelry and tried to impress her with his wealth. And, she said, he eventually had her programmed to do whatever he wanted.

Gasier's lawyers claim Jeffrey Stern even paid his mistress' bills. But soon, they said, Stern went from "sugar daddy" to something more sinister.

They said he "groomed" Gaiser for four years until she heeded his every command..

"We're talking about a lot of extremely deviant sexual behavior that was part of the grooming process. He would get her to do something that was past what she was comfortable with," said lawyer Deborah Keyser. "And if she didn't do it then she was punished."

Eventually, they said, Jeffrey Stern told Gaiser to find someone to hurt Yvonne Stern.

Jeffrey Stern "was hateful about his wife...He was wanting her out of there but he didn't want to lose half of his money and he didn't want to lose his children," Keyser said.

Jeffrey Stern has denied the allegations. His lawyer told "20/20" that Gaiser, who agreed to plead guilty to solicitation of capital murder last year, had good reason to implicate her former lover -- in exchange for her testimony against Jeffrey Stern, prosecutors agreed to reduce her possible life sentence to a maximum of 25 years in prison.

"Michelle Gaiser is caught red-handed. She has no defense. Her only way out is to come up with a story...And she's cut a very sweetheart deal."

The Harris County District Attorney will put Jeffrey Stern on trial next week for soliciting to have his wife murdered.

Yvonne Stern is continuing to stand by her man. She said there's "no way" her husband could have been involved in the plot to kill her but rather believes they are both victims of a fatal attraction.

"It's preposterous," she said.

Her confidence comes in part from what she sees as the sheer sloppiness of the failed murder scheme.

It's "the biggest joke of all," she said. "Jeff Stern's the mastermind. Is this the plot of a mastermind? My husband is brilliant. He's smart. He's talented. He would never be capable of doing such a terrible job."

Relatives and friends have set up a Facebook page in support of the Stern family. It has 17 members.

Watch the full story on the latest episode of "20/20."

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