Stephen Carl Allwine shot and killed his wife in their Cottage Grove house after would-be hit men he tried to hire on the dark web bilked him out of his money, jurors were told Tuesday as his trial began in Stillwater.

Washington County prosecutor Jamie Kreuser said Allwine was having extramarital affairs, didn't want to stay married and killed his wife in November 2016 to end their relationship.

"He was seeing other women but he didn't want to divorce her because of his position in the church," said Kreuser, referring to the defendant's role as an elder in the United Church of God.

But defense attorney Kevin DeVore refuted those allegations, telling the jury that the affairs were "red herrings and distractions" and that the prosecution had no evidence Allwine committed a crime.

"Just because he had an affair doesn't mean he killed his wife," DeVore said, adding that evidence at the death scene was "contaminated" because police officers removed a 9-millimeter handgun to unload it before photographs were taken.

Allwine, who is being held at the county jail, was charged with second-degree murder before a grand jury indicted him with first-degree premeditated murder in March. The penalty for a first-degree murder conviction is mandatory life in prison.

In November 2016, police were summoned to the family's house on S. 110th Street in Cottage Grove after Stephen Allwine called 911 and told the dispatcher his wife had shot herself. A recording of the call, played in court, included the voice of the couple's 9-year-old son who was heard asking, "Why did she do that?"

Allwine, an IT specialist who was then 43, replied, "I don't know, bud, I don't know."

As the courtroom audience listened to the recording, Allwine sat with his head down.

The dispatcher who took that call, Victoria Herrmann, testified that Allwine's demeanor ranged "from calm to hysterical" before officers arrived at the house.

"He never asked if responders were en route," she said.

Two Cottage Grove police officers found Amy Allwine, 43, on her back in the bedroom, a large pool of blood surrounding her head. She was the owner of Active Dog Sports Training, a business that closed after her death.

'Not a TV show'

Kreuser, in her opening statement, told jurors that months before the death of his wife, Stephen Allwine was having affairs with women he had met through the Ashley Madison website, which he had learned about while counseling married couples at his church. He began exploring the dark web, the portion of the internet that search engines don't index.

It was there that Allwine, using the nickname "dogdaygod," looked for someone to kill his wife, Kreuser said. A website known as Besa Mafia, where people solicit murders and assaults for hire, bilked Allwine out of thousands of dollars, she said.

So, Kreuser said, Allwine figured out an elaborate plot to disguise his wife's murder as a suicide, which included having their son leave the house that afternoon and then bringing him back to discover her body.

Allwine drugged his wife and then shot her in the right ear, Kreuser said. He dragged her body from the hallway into the bedroom to stage a suicide, Kreuser said; police found the gun resting on her left forearm.

Investigators, using a special chemical, found a large bloodstain in the hallway that had been wiped away, she said.

When DeVore took his turn speaking to the jury, he said the prosecution lacked "traditional evidence" of a crime. Prosecutors would instead try to sway the jury through the findings of a forensic computer analyst, he said.

"It sounds like an amazing story, but it's not a TV show or a movie but real life," DeVore said. The prosecution would try to convict Allwine with theories, he said, but "that's not good enough in this courtroom."

Amy Allwine had gunshot residue on her hands, he said, and police ruined the shooting scene when an officer removed the weapon to unload it. An officer put it back on her body before crime photos were taken. Two police officers who testified Tuesday said no photos were taken beforehand.

DeVore also said witnesses saw two cars accelerating rapidly and leaving the neighborhood before Stephen Allwine reported his wife dead. That happened when Allwine had gone to Woodbury to get his son from his father-in-law's house, DeVore said.

Allwine and the boy entered the house together and the boy saw his mother's body.

The trial continues this week in District Judge B. William Ekstrum's court in Washington County.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037