Riley Co. Murder Suspect Pleads Not Guilty, Requests Trial

By: Lindsey Rogers Email
By: Lindsey Rogers Email

RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- A man charged in a murder and home invasion in Riley County wants his cases to be heard by a jury.

Michael Blake Layne, 19, was arraigned in Riley County District Court Tuesday afternoon before Judge Meryl Wilson on charges of First Degree Murder, Aggravated Robbery, Aggravated Burglary, Kidnapping, Conspiracy to Commit Aggravated Robbery and Theft.

The arraignment came 11 days after Layne's preliminary hearing. On the stand at that hearing, Riley County detectives said Layne admitted to the deadly shooting but told them that he did it to protect himself.

Layne is accused of murdering Steven Freel, 31, on a dirt road in Riley County this past December. Freel was from Topeka but family members say he was staying in Manhattan at the time of his death.

Veteran Riley County detective Alan Riniker testified at Layne's preliminary hearing that Freel’s body was found at 11 AM on December 7, 2011 in the 5400 block of North 48th Street, just north of Manhattan and that it appeared he’d been there all night. A passerby found him and called police. According to Riniker, 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. Riniker said that no other relevant evidence was found at the scene but told the judge that a .45 caliber casing was later found during a search warrant at Layne’s house on Pottawatomie Court.

Reyna Youdath also testified during the preliminary hearing. The 18-year-old California resident was a freshman at Kansas State when she met Layne and started hanging out with him. In a plea agreement with the state, she is pleading guilty to Aggravated Robbery and will do 28 months in prison for a home invasion she did with Layne in the early morning hours on December 6, 2011. Other charges against her were dropped in exchange for her testimony against Layne. Youdath told the judge that her, Layne and another woman, Areale Hanks, robbed a woman inside her apartment on Hunting Avenue in Manhattan. The victim, Nicole Autrey, was bound and gagged as the suspects burglarized her home, according to police. Prosecutors say Autrey was accosted, forced in her house and tied up as the armed intruders stole a safe, laptops, an Xbox and amplifier. Youdath says they went there to steal drugs.

According to Youdath, Layne admitted to killing Freel on the same day they did the home invasion. She said they parted ways after the home invasion and that he came to pick her up at her KSU dorm later that day. She says Layne told her that he thought Freel was threatening him by sending him pictures of guns and that Freel was going to court on charges soon and Layne thought he was going to implicate him in other crimes. She says Layne also confessed to killing Freel to several other people and even drove a group of them out to Freel’s body to prove to them that he did it. According to Youdath, several items were taken from Freel’s body, including his wallet and backpack.

Riley County detective Ryan Runyan took the stand during the preliminary hearing as well and said that he was called in to work the 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’s girlfriend, Youdath and 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.

Layne’s attorney, Jillian Waesche, thought his murder charge should be reduced to Voluntary Manslaughter because of the self defense angle but he was bound over for trial on First Degree Murder at his preliminary hearing.

At his arraignment on February 21, 2012, Layne entered a plea of not guilty to each of his charges and requested a jury trial.

The trial has been set for May 1-4, 2012.

Layne is being held in the Riley County Jail.


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