-- A Wisconsin man says he still cares about his former fiancée, despite being the intended victim of her murder-for-hire plot.
“I do love [her] to this day,” John Schellpfeffer, 50, told ABC News’ “20/20” exclusively this week.
His former fiancée, Jessica Strom, 33, of Merrill, Wisconsin met with a man in February who she believed would kill Schellpfeffer. However, the man she thought she was hiring to kill her fiancé and boyfriend of six years was actually working as an informant for the local police department. Their meeting was taped and recorded and Strom was arrested later that evening.
She was sentenced in August after accepting a plea for solicitation to commit first degree intentional homicide for her alleged plot. She will serve at least three and a half years in prison.
Schellpfeffer, who has seen the tapes, says he believes his life was never really in danger and that Strom did not intend for the hitman to go through with the plan. He says he attributes her plot to mental illness.
“[It was] a mental drama in her mind, all put together from that mental illness,” Schellpfeffer said. “Instead of three years in prison, she should, with effective legal counsel, have been placed in a specialized mental health facility.”
Schellpfeffer first met Strom, a divorced single mother, in 2007 at a local bar where she was waiting tables. Schellpfeffer, also a divorcee, was looking for a second chance at love.
“She was young, vibrant, beautiful... We just clicked,” Schellpfeffer recalled.
However while they were planning their future together, Strom said the relationship also had its bad times and that Schellpfeffer was abusive.
“When it was good, it was really good, and when it was bad, it was bad,” Strom told “20/20” exclusively. “There was some jealousy and some control issues … He was jealous for whatever reason.”
At one point, Strom said the relationship turned toxic. She filed a restraining order against him, then later dropped it.
“I did stab the sofa in [Shelpfeffer’s] house,” Strom said. “I grabbed knife, and I said to him… ‘If you do not give me my car keys and let me leave, I’m going to slice this couch.’ And I did a slice and then he screamed. He threw my keys at me.”
Even with all the drama, the relationship endured and Strom and her children moved in with Schellpfeffer.
“We always made up right afterwards,” Strom said. “We have such a strong bond of love…that we would continue to stay together.”
However over the years, Strom said the relationship turned toxic. Schellpfeffer says that Jessica’s weapon of choice was a restraining order. She filed several after heated arguments and he says Strom was actually abusive towards him.
“If you can think it, she’s probably done it to me... stomping on my foot with a high-heeled spiked shoe, punches to the face,” said Schellpfeffer.
At one restraining order hearing, Schellpfeffer proposed to Strom in front of the judge and she accepted.
Then this February, Strom met with a 24-year-old former classmate at the Mint Café in downtown Wausau, Wisconsin, to offer him $1,000 and sex in exchange for killing Schellpfeffer. During the meeting, Strom described a plan for her hitman to make an appointment with Schellpfeffer at his home office and drew him a map. In the video, Strom is recorded telling her hitman to buy a gun off the street and to “blow his brains out.” She even suggested the hitman use a potato as a silencer.
Strom was questioned by police and arrested later that evening.
Strom said she was joking with her classmate about killing her fiancé.
“I used those words, but I said it in a joking sense, as I kid around about lots of things,” Strom said. “He knew what I meant.”
She insisted to police that she was actually hoping her classmate, who works in IT, could help her with her Internet issues and that the idea of killing Schellpfeffer was a misunderstanding.
“[Schellpfeffer] was frustrating me early that week. I do know that I said something like, ‘Well, you could kill him if you wanted to,’” said Strom.
Schellpfeffer was the first person Strom called from the Marathon County Jail.
“The next day she calls and says, ‘You need to help me this isn’t real,’” Schellpfeffer said.
While she serves her time in jail, Strom said there’s probably not a chance that her relationship with Schellpfeffer will resume when she is released, but that she too still loves her former fiancé.
“As much as it looked like it ... I loved that man, and I still do. And I would not kill him,” Strom said.