After two years of denial, Keith Griffith admitted Tuesday that he murdered his wife on Jan. 17, 2014, and set fire to their Reidland home, also killing their two dogs.

In a specially convened hearing, Griffith pleaded guilty to charges of murder, first-degree arson, tampering with physical evidence and two counts of animal cruelty.

Griffith also pleaded guilty to a new charge of solicitation to first-degree assault, stemming from a recent investigation that revealed he had tried to have sheriff's department Capt. Matt Carter, the lead investigator in Griffith's case, fatally shot.

McCracken Circuit Judge Tim Kaltenbach sentenced Griffith, who is 56, to 30 years in prison, stating he found his actions to be unfathomable.

"Well Mr. Griffith, some things are just so horrible that it's hard to imagine somebody would do it, and this is certainly one of those times," he said. "It's hard to believe."

Sheriff Jon Hayden said his office received word of the threat against Carter in November.

"Our department had received information that Mr. Griffith was actively in the process of trying to hire an individual to have Capt. Matt Carter assassinated, and his purpose in having this done was to keep Capt. Carter from testifying in court," Hayden said. "It was stated that Mr. Griffith felt that Capt. Carter - who was the lead investigator in his case ... without (Carter) being able to testify, it would greatly improve his chances of being acquitted of his pending murder charge."

Hayden said he immediately contacted the FBI in Louisville and asked it to investigate the threat and establish its credibility.

"We were informed within a few days of my reporting it to the FBI ... that the threat was credible," Hayden said, adding that precautions were immediately taken to ensure Carter's safety.

Hayden said it is not that unusual for officers to be threatened with harm or death at some point in their careers, but in this case the threat was different.

"What made this really uncommon was the fact that this threat was deemed to be so credible, and he certainly had motive and means to have it done," the sheriff said.

As for Carter, he said he was taken aback when he learned of the threat.

"There's never, ever been anything about this case that was personal," he said. "And when you do the right thing and the response by the individual who is guilty of the crime (is to go) after you as well, that will certainly make you stop and think."

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Raymond McGee said his office disclosed the results of the FBI's investigation to Griffith and his attorneys last week, which included a recording of Griffith's attempt to hire a hitman, and informed them the commonwealth was going to introduce the evidence at Griffith's trial next month.

"I'm sure that was a factor for Keith Griffith," McGee said of Griffith's decision to take the plea agreement.

Griffith's attorney Michael Bufkin, however, said the new evidence had no bearing on Griffith's decision, stating his client decided to own up to what he did "to make it right with God."

"He's expressed great remorse for what he's done, and I think it's very sincere," Bufkin said. "If he could change it and take it back, he would, but unfortunately he can't and that's the sad part of this."

During Tuesday's hearing, Griffith tearfully told the judge he regretted his actions and wished he could take them back.

"There's no excuse for what I did, and I can't take it back," he said. "She was my best friend and I don't know what happened to me, but I did it and there's nothing I can do about it. I'd die 10 times over to bring her back. I loved her with all my heart, and I don't know what happened. And for me to have dragged my family through this, and friends, I just can't tell you how sorry I am, and there's nothing I can do about it."

He also revealed he had thrown the handgun he used to kill his wife off a bridge at Kentucky Dam.

Following the hearing, McGee said the violent nature of Griffith's offenses mean he will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.

"He's going to serve 25 to 28 years," he said. "So he most likely will die in prison."

Contact Kat Russell, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.

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