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

Who was behind the failed murder plot against a wealthy lawyer's wife?

ByABC News
April 5, 2012, 4:09 PM

April 6, 2012 — -- It will go down as one of the most unusual criminal cases in American history. Jeffrey Stern, 55, of Bellaire, Texas, stands trial next week for being the alleged mastermind of the failed plot to murder his wife, 54 year-old Yvonne Stern. And she will be standing by his side even though he is charged with trying to have her killed, fully convinced that he has been wrongly accused.

The story of Yvonne Stern's escape from death and surprising forgiveness began on Feb. 11, 2010, when bullets were fired into their family's stately million-dollar home. As Yvonne told "20/20" anchor Chris Cuomo in her first television interview, "I sleep with ear plugs. I didn't hear anything."

It wasn't until the next day that they discovered that a bullet was lodged in their living room chair and had shattered an upstairs window.

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

Such events are pretty much unheard of in this wealthy Houston suburb. They were convinced there was no way they could be the target of something more sinister than a drive-by shooting or a robbery gone wrong.

PHOTOS: Dangerous Love Triangle

Yet the random shooting theory was quickly shattered when just weeks later, someone rang their doorbell after 10 p.m.

"Approaching the door, [I] still saw no one, and then I see this man jump out of the wall with a gun in his hand and a smirk on his face."

The gunman fired through the door at Yvonne but missed his mark.

"The bullet hit the floor and ricocheted on the opposite wall. ... He barely missed," Yvonne said.

The police and the Sterns were now convinced that somebody was in fact trying to kill them. Yvonne and the kids moved to a nearby apartment while Jeffrey Stern worked to secure his home, spending $75,000 on over a half-dozen security cameras, spotlights, and bullet-proof glass for the front door. Jeffrey Stern, a successful personal injury lawyer, wondered if he was the target, his lawyer said.

"He was just terrified," according to Jeffrey Stern's attorney, Paul Nugent. "He had a lot of suspicions, maybe an ex-client, who knows."

Even former boxing champ Evander Holyfield fell under Jeffrey's suspicions. Holyfield once starred in ads promoting Stern's law practice but their relationship ended in a legal dispute.

But on May 5, 2010, it became clear who the bullets were meant for. Yvonne headed to her Cadillac Escalade in a gated parking garage at her new apartment building and yet another hitman appeared out of nowhere.

"I see someone jump out of their car," Yvonne recalled. "And I see him coming toward me with a gun pointed to me."

The gunman came to her car, pointed the gun to her head, walked away, then turned around and fired one round. The bullet went through Yvonne's purse and into her stomach before lodging in her right hip. She played dead and waited until the gunman drove away before driving herself to a nearby gas station.

When the ambulance arrived, Yvonne begged, "Please don't let me die -- not like this. ... I have children. I have family."

Though she'd been face to face with at least two different gunmen and survived three shootings on her life in three months, Yvonne Stern's ordeal was far from over.

While she was recuperating from her serious injuries, detectives showed her an 8 by 10 mugshot of a suspect that they said was the person who wanted her dead. Yvonne, expecting to see the face of one of the gunmen who shot at her, was instead staring at the face of a woman she didn't recognize.