Ramon Sosa with his then-wife Maria, who tried to kill him for financial gain (Image: PA Real Life/Ramon Sosa)
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Ramon Sosa thought his friend was joking when he found out his estranged wife wanted to pay a hitman £1,500 to murder him.
But the look in the eyes of his pal, a former gang member, said it all: "This lady wants to kill you."
Mr Sosa, who was left shaken, confused and angry, had to face his then-wife, Maria Durantes, at home and pretend he didn't know her secret.
What followed was the "crazy" story of how he faked his execution to catch his wife, who laughed when an undercover officer, posing as a hitman, showed her a photo of Mr Sosa's crumpled body in a shallow grave.
Police officers made a fake bullet wound to the head look like the real thing after watching a YouTube make-up tutorial the night before.
Maria laughed when she saw this picture of Mr Sosa and thought he was dead
It was everything the police needed to put Maria in prison for up to 20 years, though one day she will be released and he will be looking over his shoulder again.
Dad-of-three Mr Sosa, who has found love again and is engaged, will have to live his life knowing that he could bump into Maria in the street or at a shop.
The 55-year-old former boxer, from the US city of Houston, Texas, said: "There is a little bit of thought about that when she does get released, about retaliation.
"But I have talked to the authorities about that and they have explained about how it all will work, everything she will have to go through.
"I don’t think she will take a chance. If anything happens she will go back to prison. It does cross my mind."
Mr Sosa didn't think his wife would be fooled by the staged photos
(Image: PA Real Life/Ramon Sosa)
Maria was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for trying to have her husband murdered
(Image: PA Real Life/Ramon Sosa)
Mr Sosa admits he couldn't take his eyes off Maria, a personal trainer also known as “Lulu", when he saw her on the dance floor at a nightclub in Houston in 2007.
They danced all night and became an item, and in the early days Maria lavished him with attention, spoiled him with massages and gifts, and helped him run the boxing gym where he coached young people.
Born in Mexico and living in the US on a short-term visa, Maria became an American citizen when she and Mr Sosa got married in 2010.
That day, her mother said something that never left him: "Now she's your problem."
Within years the relationship had become strained and Maria was spreading false rumours about him, claiming he was an abusive husband and an alcoholic.
Maria is quizzed by police moments before she was arrested in 2015
Mr Sosa (standing, left) says his ex-wife refused to look at him in court
The couple, who worked together at the gym, also ran into financial trouble, which added more pressure to the marriage.
Maria surprised Mr Sosa one day in 2015, telling him she wanted a divorce.
Both continued to live at their two-storey home, with Mr Sosa on one floor and Maria on the other with her mum and children, who were from a previous relationship.
Mr Sosa, once divorced already, was alone. His children were adults and were living on their own.
As the arrangement continued, Mr Sosa thought they would eventually go their separate ways after the divorce.
But Maria was trying to find someone to kill him for $2,000 (£1,500), later telling an undercover police officer: "I want him dead."
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Fortunately, Mr Sosa's friend, who worked at the gym, walked in on Maria as she talked about hiring a family in Mexico who murdered and "chopped up" people for cash.
Later, Maria confirmed to the friend that she was looking for a hitman to get rid of her husband.
The friend, whom Mr Sosa has called Mundo (not his real name), told her he would help her, but in a chilling phone call he warned Mr Sosa about the murder-for-hire plot.
Mr Sosa said: "When he told me I didn’t want to believe him. I thought he was just joking around.
"But i knew he was serious when he said, 'look, I have seen that look in people’s eyes when they want to kill somebody, and they were serious'.
"'This lady wants to kill you.'"
Maria is seen wearing a pink and white prison outfit on the day she was jailed
Maria was overheard on the phone talking about a family who kill for money
(Image: PA Real Life/Ramon Sosa)
Mr Mundo, who was driving to a supermarket at the time, pulled over to collect his thoughts, and then went back to the home he still shared with the woman who wanted him dead for financial gain.
He said: "I had to go home and see her face and I had to keep that (anger) inside of me.
"I remember getting home and they (Maria and her family) were upstairs, and I was so upset.
"I think I went into a room and closed the door and laid in bed, just staring at the ceiling and thinking, 'what am i going to do?'"
"Do I approach her, knowing this person under my roof wants to kill me?"
Mundo then spun a tale to Maria that he had found two hitmen – Paco and John Boy – and gave her a phone number for someone she thought was a contracted killer.
However, the person texting her back was Mr Sosa, playing his own hitman.
Mr Sosa pretended to be a hitman in a series of text messages to his then-wife
(Image: PA Real Life/Ramon Sosa)
By then he had gone to the police and was told to keep stringing her along to collect more evidence and make a criminal case even stronger in the eyes of a judge or jury.
The officers, who already had Maria discussing the hit on a wiretap, then came to her husband with a radical idea to make it a "slam dunk" case.
They wanted him to fake his own murder because they feared at least one member of a jury would be sympathetic to Maria's lies and find her not guilty.
The plan was to show Maria a photo of his body and use her reaction as evidence against her.
Mr Sosa went along with it, but he didn't think Maria would be fooled.
He said: "The police told me that she was a beautiful lady, a mother and known in the community, and they were afraid that if it went to a trial there would be a jury that might feel sorry for her.
"So they wanted to do this fake death.
"I said, 'look man, whatever you guys are trying to do this lady is very smart'. But they felt it was going to work – and it worked perfectly."
After looking at crime scene pictures of past murder victims, the officers applied make-up on Mr Sosa to make it look like he had been shot in the head.
He said: "I’m thinking, 'these guys are professionals'. I didn’t find out until later on they had just watched a YouTube video of a young lady and they did this on the fly the night before. It was crazy."
Mr Sosa took off all his clothes, except for his underwear, and climbed into a shallow grave they had dug.
He lay there with his eyes closed, his hands behind his back and fake blood streaming down from the fake headshot as one of the officers snapped photos from different angles.
As he went into hiding for three days, an undercover officer pretending to be a hitman met with Maria to tell her Mr Sosa was dead and show her photos of the body in a grave.
She laughed, shook the man's hand and gave him an extra $1,000.
Mr Sosa, who recently appeared on ITV's This Morning, is now a public speaker who aims to help victims of domestic abuse and manipulation
The next day, she claimed she had no idea where her husband was when officers visited the gym and arrested her.
In 2016, she pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder and was given up to 20 years.
Mr Sosa surprised people close to him when he faced his wife, then aged 42, in court and told her that he forgave her.
Mr Sosa said: "I had so much rage and anger inside of me when this was happening.
"I was like a ticking bomb. I was so frustrated thinking, 'why would she try to do this to me?'
"We could have got divorced and gone our separate ways.
"I felt that I had to release it (my anger) in some kind of way and forgiving her was the best thing I could have done.
Mr Sosa's book, called I Walked on My Own Grave, was published in 2019
"I stood up there in a packed courtroom. A lot of people were surprised when they heard me say that I forgave her.
"She never looked at me. She never apologised.
"I said 'there’s not a perfect person in this courtroom, we have all made mistakes'.
"'But now the mistake that you have made, you’re going to have to pay the consequences now'."
He added: "I forgive, but I don’t forget.
"I never will forget. My life will never be the same."
Mr Sosa hasn't had any contact with his former wife or her family since she was sent to prison. He gets updates when she comes up for parole every September.
He said: "Every year I have to write a letter explaining why I feel she should not be released."
Mr Sosa, who has two grandchildren now, found it difficult to trust women in the aftermath of it all, but he has found love again and is planning to get married a third time.
"There are days when I go through some lows and she is there for me," he said of his fiancee, who works in the medical industry.
The staged photos were published in newspapers around the world, and Mr Sosa has since written a book, called I Walked on My Own Grave.
He is now a public speaker who specialises in manipulation and domestic abuse.
He said: "She lied and accused me of domestic abuse, but it was the other way around – I was the one who was the victim of domestic abuse.
"Men who are victims of domestic abuse, it happens more than people think.
"Men stay in these types of relationships for the same reasons that women do – financial, love or whatever.
"It doesn’t make you less of a man if you report it."