Trial scheduled to start July 20

Updated: May 4, 2004, 4:58 PM ET news services

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. -- St. Louis Blues forward Mike Danton pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he conspired to kill an acquaintance in a murder-for-hire plot.

Mike Danton

Danton, wearing an orange jail-issued jumpsuit, spoke in calm and measured tones in brief responses to questions from U.S. Magistrate Gerald Cohn at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis, Ill. He is charged with conspiring and using a telephone across state lines to attempt a murder.

A pretrial hearing was scheduled for July 12, and a trial was set for July 20.

Three of Danton's relatives -- mother Sue Jefferson, brother Tom Jefferson and aunt Linda Gebe -- were at the hearing. So were two of Danton's Blues teammates, Scott Mellanby and Doug Weight, along with team marketing director Jim Woodcock.

"We're here just to observe and support Mike, to show him we stand by him," Woodcock said.

Gebe said the family is holding up "as well as can be expected" under the circumstances.

Cohn set a detention hearing for Friday afternoon. Danton will remain in the Clinton County, Ill., jail until then. Federal prosecutor Randy Massey said the government will recommend that Danton remain jailed.

Danton's attorney, Bob Haar, is hopeful Danton will be released on bond. He noted that Danton has a shoulder injury that needs treatment.

"I don't think Mike is a flight risk," Haar said.

Danton's alleged accomplice, 19-year-old Katie Wolfmeyer, pleaded not guilty Thursday and is free on $100,000 bond.

Federal authorities said Danton wanted the acquaintance killed after the two men argued April 13 over Danton's "promiscuity and use of alcohol." Danton allegedly "begged the acquaintance not to go to the general manager of the St. Louis Blues hockey organization and ruin his career," according to an FBI criminal complaint filed in the case.

The identity of the target has been a mystery. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, citing law enforcement sources, reported last month that Danton's agent, Dave Frost, was the target of the alleged plot. Frost has denied that he was a target and has refused to discuss specifics of the case, according to the newspaper.

Prosecutors said Danton, with Wolfmeyer's help, hired what they thought was a hit man for $10,000 to kill the acquaintance at Danton's suburban St. Louis apartment while he was out of town for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Danton was arrested April 16 in San Jose, Calif., a day after the San Jose Sharks beat the Blues to eliminate them from the playoffs. He returned to the St. Louis area Monday. Danton and Wolfmeyer were indicted April 22.

Danton was born Mike Jefferson but changed his name in 2002, saying that he no longer wanted to be associated with his family.

Danton came to the Blues in a June trade from the New Jersey Devils, where he had been twice suspended for disciplinary reasons. This past season he had seven goals, 12 points and 141 penalty minutes, which tied him for most on the team.

The Blues have declined to comment on the case, though Blues players last month issued a statement showing support for their teammate.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.