Man Convicted In Riley Co. Killing Gets Life Sentence

By: Lindsey Rogers Email
By: Lindsey Rogers Email

RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- A drug dealer who provided the gun used in a deadly shooting in Riley County has been sentenced to life in prison.

Domingo “Diablo” Soto, 42, was sentenced by Riley County District Court Judge Meryl Wilson Monday afternoon.

In October, Soto was convicted of Aiding and Abetting First Degree Murder for the part he played in the death of Steven Freel, 31. He was also found guilty of several drug charges, including Possession of Cocaine With the Intent to Distribute, Possession of Methamphetamine With the Intent to Distribute and Possession of Marijuana.

Soto admitted to lending his gun to the murder suspect, Michael Blake Layne, 20, who sold drugs for Soto.

Layne took a plea deal in November after Soto's trial, entering a plea of no contest to Second Degree Intentional Murder, Aggravated Robbery and Kidnapping. He faces 24 years in prison and his sentencing is also this week.

Steven Freel’s body was found at 11 AM on December 7, 2011 in the 5400 block of North 48th Street, just north of Manhattan. A passerby found him on the dirt road and called police. Detectives say an autopsy showed that Freel had died from a .45 caliber gunshot wound to the upper right chest. It is believed he was killed the day before his body was discovered. According to police, a .45 caliber casing was later found during a search warrant at Layne’s house on Pottawatomie Court.

Riley County investigators say Layne admitted to the deadly shooting but claims he did it to protect himself. Layne told investigators that Freel was at his house on December 6, 2011 with a .22 caliber handgun looking to buy another gun and Layne told him to get in the car so they could go to a friend’s house to get a weapon. Layne said that he was just going to drop Freel off somewhere and pulled down the dirt road and told Freel to get out. But when Freel got out of the car, Layne thought he was reaching for the .22 caliber gun and shot him. Layne took the gun from Freel’s pocket and tossed it in Tuttle Creek, police said.

Prosecutors say Layne and Freel had been committing robberies together and that the investigation into the crimes was starting to heat up after police convicted two other people the men had been working with. Assistant Riley County Attorney Barry Disney says Layne became paranoid that Freel would talk to authorities and panicked, killing him.

Authorities say after Layne shot Freel, he drove away, leaving Freel on the side of the road to die. Layne later told several people what had happened and when his friend’s didn’t believe him, detectives say he drove them back out to the scene of the crime to show them Freel’s body.

The state maintains that Domingo Soto gave his gun to Layne, knowing that it would be used to murder him.

Soto told police he didn’t think Layne would actually go through with the killing when he gave him the weapon.

During his sentencing hearing, Soto told the judge that he did not know Layne's intentions with the gun and claimed that he was just trying to sell the gun so he could make some extra money. He said he doesn't understand how he is responsible for the killing by selling a gun and that if he had known what it would be used for, he would never have gone through with it. Soto also denied getting a text from Layne that stated "I want him under," referring to Freel.

"I'm not that kind of person to take someone else's life," Soto told Judge Wilson.

Soto's attorney, Richard Seaton, asked for a new trial saying Soto's rights were violated because he was not allowed to confront Layne through cross examination but Layne's "hearsay" statements to police were admissible. The motion for a new trial was denied and Judge Wilson sentenced Soto to life with a minimum of 25 years in prison.

Assistant Riley County Attorney Barry Disney said Soto is responsible for ruining several lives, including the life of Steven Freel and Layne "who looked up to Soto."

In response the the defense pointing out that Soto faced more prison time that the actual killer in the case, Disney said that Soto was offered a plea deal as well but turned it down, opting to go to trial.

Michael Blake Layne is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at the Riley County Courthouse.

No members of Steven Freel's family were present for Soto's sentencing hearing.


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