Riley County Killer Sentenced To 24 Years

By: Lindsey Rogers Email
By: Lindsey Rogers Email

RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- The man who shot and killed a father of five outside of Manhattan will spend the next 24 years in prison for the crime.

Michael Blake Layne, 20, was sentenced Thursday at the Riley County courthouse.

In November, Layne took a plea deal and entered a plea of no contest to reduced charges, including Second Degree Murder, Aggravated Robbery and Kidnapping, in connection with the murder of Steven Freel, 31, last December. Freel, a father of five, was from Topeka but family members say he was staying in Manhattan at the time of his death.

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.

Layne's former "boss" and co-defendant, Domingo Soto, was sentenced earlier this week for providing the gun used to kill Freel.

Soto, 42, received a life sentence and will serve a minimum of 25 years in prison for Aiding and Abetting First Degree Murder and a number of drug charges. Prosecutors say Soto turned down a plea agreement.

Soto admitted to lending his gun to Layne, who sold drugs for him.

Layne asked Soto if he could borrow his pistol so he could kill Freel, the state maintains.

Prosecutors say 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 but a jury found him guilty.

During Layne's sentencing hearing Thursday, Steven Freel's sister, Lisa, spoke and described her brother as "loving father" who had a "huge heart." She told Layne she resented him.

"Because of you I belong to a category of people I never knew existed- murder victims' families," she said.

Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson said Layne carried out Freel's execution once he got the "green light from Soto."


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