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Frozen Pasta Man’s Denials in Murder Case Leave Judge Cold

(CN) - There was "ample proof" an employee of a frozen pasta company acted as a hit man for his boss, who allegedly offered tens of thousands of dollars for the murder of his wife, the Court of Appeals of Iowa ruled.

Terry Tobias Cobbins, Jr., worked for Marzetti's Frozen Pasta in Clive, Iowa, under the company's production supervisor Mike Miller.

From 2009 to 2010, Miller had an affair with Neida Pinon, another Marzetti employee, but she broke off their relationship after learning of his marriage to Teresa Miller.

The following Christmas, the ruling says, Cobbins was approached by his boss, who asked him to "take care [of] some business for him."

According to the ruling, "Cobbins discussed killing Teresa with several people and shared details regarding the location of her home, the desired weapon, the proposed fees, and how to cover up to avoid detection."

"Cobbins repeatedly tried to recruit acquaintances to drive him to the victim's home and sought help finding a gun," Judge Mary Tabor summarized in a 19-page opinion.

He then asked a neighbor to drive him to "do the job" for a $30,000 split, and he told his wife's cousin that he was being paid $50,000 to "do a hit on some female," Tabor said.

On Jan. 7, 2011, Teresa Miller's daughter found her mother dead on the floor of the kitchen, shot once in the head.

Although the police never found fingerprints, DNA, footwear impressions or the gun, the court found, "A wealth of circumstantial evidence links Cobbins to the murder plot."

The morning after the murder, the opinion states, Miller went to Pinon's house to express his love for her.

"Pinon told Miller about her son finding bullets in the parking spot where her car had been parked when Miller locked the keys inside the day before," Tabor continued. "Pinon had placed the bullets into a tequila glass on a kitchen shelf. Although Miller denied the bullets belonged to him, he put them in a bag and left with them."

Evidence from cell phone towers "undeniably" placed Cobbins in Knoxville, where the Millers' house was located, according to the opinion.

One witness, Bernard Bussey, testified that he drove Cobbins to the Miller house at the time of the murder, and that Cobbins went inside for long enough to commit the murder, Tabor said.

The court rejected Cobbins' allegation that Bussey lacked credibility as a "would-be accomplice," finding that cell phone records and other evidence corroborated Bussey's testimony.

Bussey has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Cobbins also tried to overcome his conviction by claiming that the judge wrongly allowed for the admission of his prior convictions for theft and prior absence from custody. He criticized his lawyers for failing to suppress these past crimes from the jury, an oversight that he alleged rose to ineffective assistance of counsel.

On the latter claim, the Court of Appeals found "it necessary to preserve this issue for post-conviction relief proceedings to determine if counsel breached a material duty and whether that breach resulted in prejudice to Cobbins's case."

Even if the admission of this evidence were improper, however, "the State's proof pointed plainly at Cobbins as the person who shot Teresa; Admission of the prior conviction was harmless," the opinion states.

Cobbins' public defender did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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