Increased Security At Hearing For Riley County Murder Suspect

By: Lindsey Rogers Email
By: Lindsey Rogers Email

RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Security was heightened Friday during a hearing for a 19-year-old man accused of murder in Riley County.

Extra Riley County correctional officers and police officers were on hand during a motions hearing for Michael Blake Layne.

Layne is accused of murdering Steven Freel, 31, on a dirt road in Riley County this past 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. During Layne’s preliminary hearing in February, Riley County detective Ryan Runyan took the stand and said that he was called in to work the Freel homicide investigation on December 7th and that he knew of Layne and Freel because he’d been looking into several robberies, indicating that Freel and Layne were part of his probe. Runyan says he interviewed Layne on December 7th and Layne gave him seven different versions of what happened. The detective says Layne ultimately told him 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. Runyan says Layne took the gun from Freel’s pocket and tossed it in Tuttle Creek.

During the motions hearing on Friday, April 20, 2012, prosecutors asked Riley County District Court Judge Meryl Wilson to determine whether Layne’s statements to police during interrogations were voluntarily made so that the state can present them to the jury during his upcoming trial. By law, a defendant’s statements must be found to be a product of free will before they can be used as evidence, Riley County Assistant Attorney Barry Disney said.

Detective Sonia Gregoire and Detective Runyan took the stand and told the judge that Layne was arrested on December 7, 2011, the same day that Freel’s body was found. Layne was arrested on an outstanding warrant for a traffic ticket but Gregoire says he was already a suspect in Freel’s murder. Both detectives questioned him together at length at the Riley County Police Department.

His first interview on December 7th last four hours and his second follow up interview on December 8th lasted two hours. On December 9th, Layne sent a note to investigators from the jail, letting them know that he wanted to speak with them again and his third interview on December 9th lasted 3.5 hours. Gregoire and Runyan said that during each recorded interview, Layne was talkative and willing to answer their questions and that he read his rights out loud at the start of each interrogation. They testified that Layne never asked them to end the interviews and never requested an attorney.

Layne’s defense attorney, Jillian Waesche, asked the court to suppress the statements Layne made to the detectives because the normal procedure was not followed when it came to Layne’s Miranda rights. She says detectives just had him sign the waiver forms at the bottom instead of having him initial after each right, indicating that he understood which rights he was giving up. She told the judge that Layne did not make a “knowing, intelligent and informed waiver of his rights” and asked Judge Wilson to review certain parts of the recorded interrogations. The judge said that he would review the interviews before making a ruling.

Layne’s trail is scheduled for September 4-7, 2012. He’s being held in the Riley County Jail. Domingo Soto, the man police say provided the gun that Layne used to kill Steven Freel and Layne’s alleged boss in a local drug dealing operation, is set to be arraigned Monday, April 23, 2012 in Riley County District Court, also before Judge Wilson.

The Riley County Police Department and Riley County Attorney’s Office would not comment on the increased security in the courtroom and courthouse on Friday. In March, police uncovered a plot for an escape from the Riley County Jail.

Officials say a confidential informant contacted the department Thursday, March 8, 2012 and told officers that plans were in place for one of the jail's inmates to break out of the facility.

Riley County Police Department’s spokesman Lieutenant Josh Kyle said that an investigation was started immediately as were security sweeps in the jail, which resulted in officers finding more evidence of the conspiracy to escape from custody. Kyle told WIBW that the plot included multiple people and a weapon that was discovered inside the jail.

Kyle declined to specify what kind of weapon officers found in the county jail. He also would not discuss how the weapon could have gotten into the facility. RCPD would not comment on any of the inmates that were involved in the attempted jail break.

The case was forwarded Riley County Attorney’s Office and no arrests were made. Lieutenant Kyle says he cannot release any suspect information and cannot confirm or deny that Layne and/or Soto were suspects in the case. Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson said he cannot confirm that the two men were involved in the escape plan.

631 SW Commerce Pl. Topeka, Kansas 66615 phone: 785-272-6397 fax: 785-272-1363 email:
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