The Killing of Justin Bieber

Hatched in prison by a convicted murderer with a case of Bieber Fever gone bad, it was a grotesquely twisted plan: Kidnap the then-18-year-old pop star while he played Madison Square Garden, execute and castrate him. If not for one wrong turn, it might have been the most infamous celebrity crime of the century. Inside the plot to assassinate—and desecrate—the world’s greatest teen idol.

(Details, April 2013. Illustrations: Mat Maitland)

THE KID WAS under Dana Martin’s skin. A convicted murderer serving a life sentence, Martin lay face-down on a prison-issue bed, wincing. Behind him, on a white plastic patio chair, hunched a tattoo artist serving five months for assault.

Grabbing Martin’s right ankle, he pressed the buzzing needle of a prison-made inking gun into a pimply white right calf. The gun was improvised using the tiny electric motor of a Radio Shack cassette player, with a piece of guitar string and a pen for a needle—its black ink harvested from the smoke of burning baby oil. The tattooist was finishing up an illicit 15-hour project that had spanned two weeks, putting the final touches on a seraphic face: a young boy with a bowl cut, a hoodie, pouty lips, and a lover’s gaze. The kid’s name, inked in big, bubbly street lettering, ran up the shin—JUSTIN BIEBER—and beneath that, the date: FEBRUARY 11, 2011. It was a big day for fans of the teen pop idol—Bieber‘s breakthrough 3-D concert biopic, which Martin had obsessively tracked for weeks on shows like Entertainment Tonight, was arriving in theaters. Martin admired the ink work on the film title, which he adopted as a “Fuck you all” motto: NEVER SAY NEVER.

Now, two years later, as the 45-year-old prisoner stands shackled in a cinder-block room at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility, outside Las Cruces, in late January—his legs in ankle chains, bony wrists clamped to belly chains at his waist—a wry scowl takes over his face. It’s as if his strange journey, from adoration to attempted assassination, is causing him pain or humor. Or both.

On November 20 of last year, New Mexico State Police charged him and two others with multiple counts of first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, accusing them of attempting one of the most bizarre and twisted plots ever hatched in a prison. According to the police affidavit, the plan involved kidnapping Bieber in New York City during a sold-out two-concert stand at Madison Square Garden, executing him, and then cutting off his testicles as trophies of their handiwork. Martin has admitted that he masterminded the plot, which also targeted Bieber’s bodyguard and two Vermont residents, and brazenly claims he’s still trying to kill the pop idol. His codefendants, Mark Staake and Tanner Ruane—an uncle-and-nephew team from Albuquerque—maintain their innocence. For very different reasons, all three defendants eagerly await their trial, for which there is no date yet. Staake and Ruane say they want to put the record straight—that Martin had set them up—while Martin, whose life sentence makes any further punishment academic, is approaching his day in court as one more chance to bask in the spotlight.

Their alleged plot made headlines around the globe, not least because of the manner in which it unraveled. Staake and Ruane missed a turn and ended up at a border crossing, where Staake was apprehended on an outstanding warrant. Bieber’s team has remained silent on the alleged plot, except to release a statement assuring his adoring public that “We take every precaution to protect and ensure the safety of Justin and his fans.”

The New Mexico prison must now do the same for the Man Who Would Kill Bieber. Martin is on 23-hour-a-day lockdown for his own protection. To the outside world he is a self-styled John Hinckley Jr. or Mark David Chapman for our TMZ-infused times, a fan whose celebrity obsession led him to try to kill for fame. But in the Lord of the Flies food chain of prisons, he is simply a target. Just as engineering the murder of the world’s biggest pop star would bring him longed-for notoriety, shivving Martin would bestow valuable cred on a fellow inmate.

I meet Martin in the gymnasium-size visiting room of the 1,300-prisoner facility, which squats in the Chihuahuan Desert, amid dry streambeds and creosote bushes.

“I shaved it for you,” says Martin, by way of a greeting. “The tattoo? I always tell people you need to have a shaved Bieber. Believe me, you do not want a hairy Bieber.”

Throughout our three-hour interview, Martin displays a flinty sense of humor and a prison-scholar vocabulary peppered with nonwords like “disconvoluted.” He speaks in a monologue of associative thought—variously arrogant, insecure, defensive, colorful, witty, and seemingly sociopathic. “I never really had empathy in my life,” he tells me. He bemoans his status as a prison pariah. Convicted of first-degree murder for killing a young girl in 2000, he occupies the lowest caste among inmates. He says he’s been beaten and sexually assaulted as retribution for his offense. “For killing a 15-year-old female,” he complains. “Which seems to be a very unpopular crime.”

In his six-by-eight-foot cell, Martin finds solace in watching reports on himself and his plot on E! but is miffed by the coverage—starting with his goateed mug shot. “They keep running this photo of when I had my Apolo Ohno beard, because it looks the creepiest.” He bristles at the misrepresentation of his criminal past. “They say I raped the girl I murdered. That never happened.” And he is frustrated that no one truly understands why he decided that Justin Bieber must die. “It isn’t just so people will know who I am. It’s because he changed, and that made me angry.”

JUST BEIBER’S VOICE first came to Martin over a prison radio in the winter of 2010. As the Canadian phenom exploded across the pop cosmos—his bouncy hit single “Baby” had soared up the charts—Martin, like millions of preteen girls, caught Bieber Fever. “He’s an attractive kid, everybody knows that,” says Martin, annoyed at having to explain his crush. “Justin Bieber is warm and fuzzy. He’s talented. I liked his music.” Martin downloaded every song he could manage and eventually amassed 52 on his Department of Corrections–issued mp3 player. Although he had favorite tracks (he finds “Overboard” to be “sad and down-to-earth”), he quickly became more fixated on the musician than on the music. Martin remembers watching Bieber on the Today show emoting to Matt Lauer about how much he cared about his fans: “He just seemed to purr.”

A true Belieber, he watched intently as Bieber became ubiquitous, appearing on The View, guest-starring on CSI, flipping off the paparazzi, becoming Ellen DeGeneres’ new favorite person ever, and hosting Saturday Night Live. After the 3-D film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never opened, a year later, Forbesranked the pop star No. 2 on its list of the highest-paid celebrities under 30. Martin loved it. Alone in his cell, he sketched his idol in a bow tie and pink shirt and vest, adding the drawing to his collection of male nudes. (Martin claims his attraction to Bieber is more than sexual, and he turns testy when I raise the subject: “What are you trying to get me to say, that I love Justin Bieber and think he’s gorgeous? He’s a good-looking kid. Would I go to bed with him? Yeah. He’s legal, so probably.”) Psychiatrists say celebrity stalkers like Martin may acquire romantic and erotic fixations in order to compensate for their own deficiencies. “Intimacy-seeking stalkers develop fantasy relationships as a way to raise themselves up socially, to feel pleasure, and to escape what is usually a blighted life,” says James Knoll IV, the director of forensic psychiatry at the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University.

When Bieber performed songs from his 2011 Christmas album, Under the Mistletoe, outside the Today studios, drawing one of the largest crowds in the show’s history, Martin longed to partake of what the devotees at Rockefeller Center enjoyed: the freedom to worship at the altar of the Biebs. “Anybody on the streets, all these girls that are his fans, can look at Bieber anytime they want to on their cell phones, they can read anything they want, they can tweet him, they know where he’s going to be, they can go see him—just buy tickets and walk in. I can’t do that,” Martin says.

One day, Martin recalls, he saw Bieber tell a TV host that he rarely received fan mail because his fans only tweet and e-mail him. So Martin started mailing handwritten letters, dozens of them, to Bieber at the Ellen show (“He claims she’s a personal friend,” Martin explains) and at his label, Island Def Jam. Martin asked for autographed photos, appealing to Bieber’s professed Christianity to please respond to him. He realized that whoever opened his letters would see a prison return address and probably trash them. But he was hopeful that Bieber, who cares about his fans, might come through. If he could just have a personal letter, Martin reasoned, then “I’m no longer a nobody. There’s a certain validation that somebody like me would get if Justin Bieber was my friend.”

Martin kept up his one-way correspondence as Bieber continued his march toward world domination. By the middle of 2012, Martin could hardly turn on the TV without seeing his young idol. Bieber was trying to pivot from teen pop to a more mature dance-pop and R&B. But Martin, increasingly resentful about the lack of response, apparently detected something else changing in his idol.

At 18, Bieber would speed around Los Angeles in a $230,000 white Ferrari 458 Italia. When his manager, Scooter Braun, presented him with a Fisker Karma sports car on TV, he exuded bashful humility. “I’m looking at his manager on Ellen, and he’s telling Justin, ‘You know how I always say it is important to stay humble,'” Martin says, chafing at his wrist chains as he tries to gesticulate. “And I’m like, ‘Really?’ He can fool a bunch of 9-year-old girls, but the adult audience that he wants now is not fooled by this.”

Martin resented the new, more adult and urban image Bieber cultivated. He cringed at Bieber’s awkward Vanilla Ice–like embrace of hip-hop slang: Wassup, man, how you doing? “He’s a phony now,” he says.

Martin’s letters turned angry. He says he wrote DeGeneres in May 2012. “I said, ‘I want a reply from him or I’m going to do something nasty to him.'” As evidence he was not to be trifled with, Martin included his rap sheet. Hearing nothing back from DeGeneres or Bieber, he began plotting. “That’s when I decided to kidnap and kill him,” he says.

DANA MARTIN’S HISTORY of narcissism and vengeance began in his hometown of Barre, Vermont, a picturesque burg deep in the state’s granite belt. On October 25, 2000, he lured a teen named DeAndra Florucci to his parents’ home. He tied her to his bed with sneaker laces, had sex with her, strangled her with his father’s paisley tie, then dumped her nude body into a ravine. Martin confessed to the killing six days later. At his 2001 sentencing, prosecutors said Martin had killed Florucci in a fit of jealousy—for dating a man he was in love with. The man had abandoned Martin at a Lake George, New York, motel room, 120 miles away, the night before the killing. Martin was convicted in June 2001 of first-degree murder. Since receiving his sentence of 35 years to life with no chance of parole, he has been moved among prisons in Vermont, Florida, Minnesota, and New Mexico, often for his own protection.

In spring of 2012, shortly after he was transferred to Las Cruces, Martin met Mark Staake, who was serving four years for stealing a car and for aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon. A slender 41-year-old native of Albuquerque, Staake has a rap sheet littered with convictions—for armed burglary, grand theft auto, drunk driving, and cocaine possession.

Martin showed Staake his Bieber tattoo. Staake tells me he thought it was “a little strange, but I don’t judge nobody. He can be gay or whatever—that’s his business.” As two of a handful of white prisoners amid the gang-ridden prison’s largely Hispanic population, Staake and Martin bonded. When a new prisoner enters the cell block, it is standard practice for other prisoners to look through the legal file he arrives with. In Martin’s file, Staake found federal convictions for transporting explosives and threatening a federal judge, and he was impressed. Staake knew Martin was in for life but says Martin must have removed his murder case from his file when he showed it to Staake. Martin did, however, claim responsibility for a string of 25 grisly unsolved killings. “From there the guy just started telling me his life story like I was a priest,” Staake says. “He laid it all out and he didn’t stop. I found it fascinating, as sick as a lot of it was. He’s a very interesting dude, highly intelligent, and the stuff that came out of his mouth was like stuff you’d see on TV. I found myself looking forward to meeting up in the yard and hearing more stories.” When the two were in the hole at the same time for disciplinary trouble, Staake says, Martin would pass him coded notes through the slots of their adjacent cells. And when they were moved to separate units, Martin wrote him letters through inter-prison mail. One included “a cartoon drawing of a beaver dressed like a rapper with chains and a hat that said JB on it,” Staake says. Another note contained “coded language about kidnapping someone for $170,000.” (Staake says he told Martin he wouldn’t abduct anyone.)

To Martin, the friendship was less the point than getting Staake in his thrall. “I’m a great manipulator because I don’t ever forget anything,” Martin says. “It’s a lifetime of observing people, their facial expressions, their body languages.” Martin felt that Staake—who was due to be paroled in the fall—could be persuaded to carry out a hit. He set about convincing Staake that despite being in prison, Martin had access to fine cars, a sprawling mansion, wads of cash, and contacts in a powerful Chinese gang. “I spent a huge amount of time lying to Mark,” he says. Staake, and later Ruane, “were pawns in this game, and they didn’t really matter to me. I have a history of not having friends.”

Martin infused his lies with plausible evidence. He kept a photo album full of his fake holdings and showed Staake a snapshot of a 1983 Ferrari 308, worth $143,000, claiming it was his father’s. He encouraged Staake to look it up on Carfax, using a VIN cribbed from a classified ad. Martin told Staake his family owned the historic Lottery Hill Farm in Woodstock, Vermont—a $2.7 million estate once owned by Michael J. Fox. Martin says he convinced Staake that he sold heroin for a Chinese organized-crime syndicate in New York City and that he had connections that would protect Staake.

By mid-June, with Staake due to be paroled in October, Martin’s plot had thickened. He wanted to settle some old scores as well and says he directed Staake to kill two former Vermont friends: One was Maurice Simoneau, the man who had been dating Florucci and who had left Martin in the Lake George motel room. “He was obsessed with me, and I didn’t want anything to do with it,” says Simoneau, who was in love with Florucci and believes Martin killed her to get rid of her as a rival and to hurt him. “He was off the wall, very short-tempered—a nut job.” The other intended victim, whom police call PL, knew Martin when he was a teen in the mid-1990s. Martin targeted PL simply for refusing to give him information on a mutual acquaintance. Martin says he instructed Staake to strangle both men with paisley ties—the method he used on Florucci—and convinced Staake that the Chinese gang had approved the hit on Simoneau.

As a rationale, Martin says he told Staake that Simoneau, a convicted heroin dealer, once stole $430,000 worth of the Chinese gang’s heroin from him (a claim Simoneau denies) and that carrying out the hit would put Staake in good standing with the gang. To prove it, Martin gave Staake a phony letter that read “BY ORDER: Hip Sing Assoc., 16 Pell Street, NY, NY 11013” and contained personal information about Simoneau. Martin promised Staake that in exchange for these killings and that of Bieber, the gangsters would pay him $50,000. In addition, he offered Staake his father’s Ferrari and Lottery Hill Farm as a hideout.

Martin developed a code for them to discuss the crimes over the phone while Staake was on the road. They would call the targets pit bulls. The killings would be referred to as “putting down the dogs.” It was corny but simple to remember and indicative of Martin’s contempt for his intended victims.

By this point, Bieber had released the album Believe, which only fueled Martin’s desire for blood. It included the biting song “Maria,” a thinly veiled swipe at Mariah Yeater, the fan who had falsely claimed that Bieber had fathered her child, with the lyrics Now she’s in the magazines, on TV, making a scene. Oh she’s crazy, crazy in love. And she’s all over the news, saying everything but the truth. If Martin could kill Bieber, he too would become an indelible part of pop-culture history. “Fame I don’t really care about,” he says. “Wanting to be remembered for posterity, that is what is important to me.”

Martin was moving quickly down a twisted and bloody trail blazed by the likes of Mark David Chapman, the troubled fan who shot and killed John Lennon in New York City in 1980; Yolanda Saldívar, the founder of the Selena fan club, who shot and killed the Tejano singer at a Days Inn in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1995; John Hinckley Jr., whose obsession with Jodie Foster led him to shoot President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to get her attention; and Valerie Solanas, who got her 15 minutes by shooting Andy Warhol in 1968 after he refused to produce a play she wrote, Up Your Ass.

A key psychiatric term in the field of celebrity-stalking studies is “entitled reciprocity,” in which an inflamed narcissism convinces the stalker that he or she deserves the star’s attention. “If the stalker thinks he’s being rejected, he can feel humiliated and develop anger and hatred toward this star he loves,” says J. Reid Meloy, a Southern California–based forensic psychologist who advises Hollywood celebrities’ security teams on stalker strategies and edited the book Stalking, Threatening and Attacking Public Figures. “They think, ‘I have spent hundreds of hours writing and communicating and sending e-mails and presents to this celebrity; this celebrity figure owes me time, they owe me attention—how dare they ignore me.’ Narcissism is the aggressive underbelly of this idealized fantasy,” says Meloy, who worked with the Los Angeles County D.A.’s Office to evaluate threats posed to Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow. The quintessential example of the phenomenon is Robert Bardo, who killed Rebecca Schaeffer, the 21-year-old star of the CBS sitcom My Sister Sam, on her L.A. doorstep in 1989 after stalking her for three years. Before the murder, he had written to his sister: “I have an obsession with the unattainable. I have to eliminate what I cannot attain.”

Although Martin’s Bieber fixation was known to Staake, its depths may not have been. When Staake was released on parole in October, he went directly to Albuquerque and recruited his 23-year-old nephew, Tanner Ruane, a six-foot, 260-pound bar bouncer, as a wingman. Ruane confirms that Staake asked him to go to Vermont but, from his cell in New Mexico’s Doña Ana County jail, claims he knew nothing of a murder plot—saying his uncle told him they were going to Vermont only to get Martin’s father’s Ferrari and sell it. “He said he had met a rich guy in prison,” Ruane says. “He says, ‘He gave me a Ferrari, let’s go up and get it.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, right. Dude gave you a Ferrari.’ He says, ‘Look at these pictures.’ I’m like, ‘That don’t mean nothing.’ He says, ‘Dude, the title is at Grandma’s house, go ahead and call her.’ So I called Grandma, and he wasn’t lying.” It’s not clear whether Ruane’s grandmother (Staake’s mother) really did tell him this.

Regardless of the mission, Staake, fresh out of prison and broke, couldn’t afford to make the trip. So Ruane sold off his 9mm pistol, his Xbox, and his Sony Bravia flat-screen TV—all for $1,000—and Staake borrowed a 1983 BMW to make their 3,300-mile drive to Vermont.

Martin says he directed Staake and Ruane to kill his hometown nemeses first, then head to New York to carry out Operation Bieber. The singer’s tour schedule would bring him to Madison Square Garden for a pair of concerts on November 28 and 29. Martin, knowing Bieber’s public location is frequently tweeted about, whether it’s shopping at a Best Buy or caffeinating at Starbucks, was confident the singer would be an easy target. “I needed Staake to pull a Jack Ruby,” Martin says, “which is basically to just run up to Justin Bieber and shoot his bodyguard, shoot Justin Bieber if necessary, because this whole thing is fluid.” Preferably, however, with the bodyguard down, Martin hoped that Staake and Ruane could abduct Bieber in a car and later kill him “and cut off his testicles.”

Before he left New Mexico, Staake says, Martin asked him to have a friend draw a picture of Bieber strapped to a chair, wrapped in barbed wire, with a bullet hole in his head. Staake says Martin had told him, “If I was free, here’s what I’d want to do—put Bieber in a cage, rape him repeatedly, and put it on YouTube.”

On November 14, according to a police affidavit, Staake and Ruane set out on their four-day cross-country road trip. They talked several times a day by phone with Martin, who tracked their progress on a hand-drawn map he had crudely traced from a Weather Channel map on his TV. As his henchmen drove east, Martin played his head games with them. On the third day, he told Staake he had spoken to his Chinese-gangster friend, who had given a new order. “He just told me you need to castrate them,” Martin claims he told Staake, adding that they were to put the testicles in Ziploc bags as proof that their mission was accomplished. Martin says Staake was both shocked and confused. “He said, ‘I’m not gonna cut off their wankers,'” Martin says. “I said, ‘We’re not talking about wankers, Mark. We’re talking castration.'” Martin says that when he explained the distinction to Staake, the response was the same. Eventually, says Martin, Ruane agreed to disfigure his victims for a price of $5,000 per person, $2,500 per testicle.

By the time Staake and Ruane reached Barre, Vermont, on November 18, the BMW was thick with fast-food wrappers, discarded Marlboro 27 boxes, and a man-stench that would not abate. That evening, they drove up to the address they had for the first victim, Maurice Simoneau, a small apartment building. According to Simoneau, when his father met the pair on the porch, they told him they were from out of state and that a friend had told them Simoneau “would show them around town.” Simoneau’s father told Staake and Ruane that his son wasn’t home. They soon had other troubles. They learned that Staake’s 80-year-old stepfather, a grandfather figure to Ruane, had died of cancer in New Mexico. Exhausted from the drive and emotionally drained, they were a sobbing mess when Martin called a short while later. “Tanner was yelling on the phone—he was going crazy,” Martin says. “They were both crying. I’m trying to keep them together.”

“We were both pretty tore up, pretty worn out,” Ruane says. Martin says he instructed them to give up for the night and head 80 miles north to Derby, Vermont, about four miles from the Canadian border, where PL lives. Running low on cash, Ruane says, he and Staake decided to sleep in the car.

After a night in subfreezing temperatures, Ruane woke around 6 a.m., sore, tired, and cold to the bone. He started driving, put the heater on, and pulled onto I-91, heading north. “I was frozen, trying to light my cigarette and defog the window and drive all at the same time,” he says. “That’s when I missed the exit.”

The duo drove straight up to what looked like a toll booth. It was in fact the U.S.-Canada border crossing. When they realized their mistake, Ruane made a U-turn, but it was too late: They were stopped by border agents, who ran a background check and found a warrant for Staake’s arrest—he had violated his probation by leaving New Mexico. The border agents handed Staake over to the Vermont State Police and let Ruane go. He was frozen with fear. “I sat there for four hours—I was scared, dude,” Ruane says. “I’m 23 years old, never been on this side of the U.S. before without one of my guardians. I had half a tank of gas, maybe 20 dollars, and I was 3,000 miles from home.”

He recalled the first thing his uncle had told him on the trip: “Don’t make Dana mad.”

When Martin called Ruane’s cell a short while later and learned of their run-in at the border, he was furious. According to the police, Ruane told Martin over a tapped prison phone line that he didn’t want to “move it forward” without his uncle because it was his “deal.” Martin agreed, according to the police, realizing this 23-year-old with no criminal experience couldn’t do the job alone. “It’s gonna end here,” Martin told him. Ruane was upset, or pretending to be, telling Martin, “Fuck! Dude, this pisses me off so bad, brother.” He told Martin that he and his uncle had the heart to do the job and, authorities say, asked Martin to keep the gig open for them. Still smarting, however, Martin said of his intended victims that they “don’t know how fucking lucky they got.”

IT MIGHT HAVE ended there. But Martin couldn’t accept the failure of his plan. Even if he didn’t kill Justin Bieber, he figured he could still gain global notoriety for his effort—just as Mariah Yeater is infamous for trying to ensnare the singer in a sex scandal, just as Hinckley is infamous for trying to kill Reagan. He decided to explain the plan to authorities and set up Ruane. “I knew my calls were being recorded,” Martin says. “Once I know the plan is dead, now I need to tell prison officials about it. I’m talking to one of the witnesses on the telephone, who isn’t too bright, and I can get him to start talking about it and I did, because I wanted people to know that Dana Martin is doing this. I knew that by telling, I was going to be guilty of conspiracy. I don’t care. But people now know that we were going after Justin Bieber.”

Martin asked to speak to his prison caseworker, Sergeant Edgar Pinon, and told him the details of the plot. Pinon notified the New Mexico State Police, and Martin agreed to cooperate—he would talk Ruane through the plot as the authorities listened in. The next morning, Ruane called Martin. With officers from the Corrections Department’s Security Threat Intelligence Unit instructing him, Martin told Ruane to pull into the nearest service area, the Pilot truck stop in Rotterdam, New York, and wait for some of Martin’s Vermont friends to bring him money to get home. While Ruane idled in the parking lot, Martin talked him through the plot for the benefit of the eavesdropping cops. Ruane was chatty, telling Martin that he and his uncle had bought gardening clippers, “for, like . . . trimming roses,” allegedly to perform the castrations. He said the clippers were his idea. He said his uncle was going to “handle the whole putting down of the dogs, and I was going to go snip-snip.” He again told Martin how bad he felt that he could not finish the job. When I ask Ruane about the taped calls, he says, “I was just saying what my uncle told me to say.” Beyond that, he says, he doesn’t remember the specifics of the calls.

In one telling audio snippet released to the media in late February, Ruane appears to be unaware of any plans beyond Vermont. In the recording, Martin says, “Did he go over the Bieber thing with you?” Ruane answers in a laconic, countrified voice, “Nuh-uh, no. Like, the way I work, dude, is I like to know as little as possible.” But Ruane goes on to talk about the alleged castration weapons. “We went and we bought some of the, you know, hedge clippers? . . . You’re gonna give me five large for each one I get.” Martin then instructs Ruane on exactly how he wants the Vermont targets strangled with the paisley tie: “Tie it really, really tight. Tie it in the front once, really tight, put it in a knot that cuts off the oxygen, then you tie it in the back again, really tight, and that just seals the deal.”

When I ask Ruane if Martin set him up, he says simply, “I couldn’t tell you if he did. You’re telling me.” Staake is more emphatic. He maintains that he and his nephew traveled to Vermont to pick up the Ferrari and some drugs from Martin’s Chinese-gangster connection. “I knew he was an evil person,” Staake says of his prison associate. “But it was just one of those things. It was an opportunity for me to come up on some money and get on my feet when I got out of prison. I didn’t go up there for any other reason.” He thinks Martin fabricated the hit plot “because he started to worry about me getting ready to rip him off.”

At 2:30 P.M., a team of New York state troopers swarmed the truck stop and arrested Ruane. Inside the BMW, police found Fiskars gardening clippers, photos and addresses of both Vermont targets, the Hip Sing gang letter, and a hand-drawn map of Lottery Hill Farm.

Martin claims he still has assassins—his Chinese-gangster pals—looking to kill Bieber. “It’s still on,” he says. It seems less likely—but not impossible—that hit men could reach Bieber now. While the singer typically had one visible bodyguard before the plot, he is now generally seen escorted by two or three. “There may be any number of people who appear to be fans but are actually planted among the fans,” says Meloy, the stalker expert. “They’ll be looking for nonverbal stuff that telegraphs a problem—someone with a sullen look or a very flat expression, just staring at the celebrity.”

Even now, Martin says he’s willing to rescind his fatwa against Bieber if the singer or even Braun, Bieber’s manager, would agree to meet him. “I’ve written to the district attorney saying that I’ll plead guilty, I’ll even testify against my two partners—I just want to have a sit-down with Justin Bieber,” he says. “And they just won’t do it. To them that’s just bizarre.”

Prosecutors have refused to comment on the case. But on January 3, a grand jury in Las Cruces indicted all three men on two counts each of first-degree conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation to commit murder—for the planned Vermont hits, but not for Bieber. The district attorney’s office says it considers the investigation still open.

Despite telling me that he has hit men looking to kill Bieber, or maybe because of it, Martin wonders aloud if Bieber will immortalize him in song. “That’s not likely, is it?” he says. “Because this isn’t going away. Do you really think that I would stop? Honestly? I tell people I’m not going to stop. And I’m not gonna stop. So if you’re Justin Bieber, wouldn’t you want to, like, do something to make this go away? . . . Until something bad actually happens to him, they are going to treat it as ‘Oh, Martin’s just crazy, he doesn’t have nobody.’ I was kinda hoping that, with what I did, it would show them.”