After Navy Reservist Paul Berkley got home from the Middle East, his young wife Monique suggested they go for a romantic picnic in the park.

But when they got there, two thugs crept up on them – fatally shooting Paul in the head and wounding Monique in the shoulder.

It looked like a badly botched robbery…but was it?

“It’s all just so ironic, isn’t it?” Paul’s distraught teen daughter Becky wrote in her blog.

“My dad was in the Middle East for months and months and didn’t get shot. Then he came home, where you’d assume he’d be much safer…and then all this happened.”

Monique, 26, was 46-year-old Paul’s third wife.

They got married in 2001, and Monique moved in with her new husband and his two children from a previous marriage – Becky, now 18, and Zeke, 20.

In January 2005, Paul left their home in Clayton, N.C., to begin a tour of duty based in Bahrain.

But shortly after he left, Monique began an affair with Andrew Canty, then 18, and he moved in with her.

He went to the same high school as her stepchildren, Becky and Zeke.

Canty moved out just before Paul returned home on Christmas leave on Dec. 14, 2005. Paul, unaware of his wife’s cheating, went to his son’s high school and listened with pride as Zeke sang the Star- Spangled Banner.

“Zeke came up to the microphone and welcomed me home, which was sweet,” he noted in his own blog.

Happy to be back, Paul also told of going to the movies with Becky and enjoying pizza with her.

But Monique and Canty had been secretly plotting for weeks to kill the devoted dad – to get their hands on his life insurance money, said prosecutor Susan Spurlin.

On Dec. 18, Monique packed a picnic basket with chocolates, wine and candles for the couple to enjoy at a park in nearby Raleigh.

“She persuaded paul to go for a romantic evening at the park,” Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue told The ENQUIRER.

But when they arrived, Canty and his pal Latwon Johnson were waiting with a gun, said Sughrue.

Canty sneaked up behind them, fired a shot into the back of Paul’s head and then shot Monique in the shoulder. “The idea was to make it look like a robbery,” said Sughrue.

After Canty and Johnson fled, Monique knelt by the dying Paul, and called police on her cell phone.

Fortunately, cops were able to connect the dots… the life insurance policy… the affair…the fake robbery.

Monique quickly recovered from her wound.

Cops soon busted Canty and Johnson and charged them with murder.

“Monique confessed,” says Sughrue.

This past Aug. 27, Canty pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Johnson has appealed his conviction after being sentenced to a 23-year term.

Monique pleaded guilty and is also serving life in prison.