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YOUNGSTOWN Murder suspect says he has alibi



Published: Sun, August 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Police say evidence found on Hogan's car links the vehicle to the homicide.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Dressed in the orange that marks him as an inmate, Michael Hogan shakes his head, using his hand to make a point as he speaks into a telephone receiver from behind a glass window at the county jail.

Tears well in his eyes.

"I didn't have nothing to do with this," the murder suspect says, "and these people are trying to take my damn life from me."

At 1:30 p.m. May 31, Hogan said he was sleeping at his mother's house on Forestridge Drive in Boardman.

But police say he was wide awake a few blocks away, using his Cadillac to kill a 71-year-old man.

John K. Ruble Sr. of Struthers died that afternoon after being run over trying to stop a man from stealing his wife's purse at the township recycling center behind the fire station on South Avenue.

Hogan, 36, was arrested within hours of the crime, on a parole violation, driving a dark blue 1987 Cadillac that police say hit Ruble.

He said he was picked up in the parking lot at Teenie's Tavern on South Avenue on a probation violation for having two cans of Budweiser in the car.

He remained in jail when a Mahoning County grand jury handed down a murder and aggravated robbery indictment on June 27.

Past offenses

Jail is not new to Hogan. His first adult conviction came in 1984, when he was 18, on charges that he tried to cash a check written to someone else, according to Youngstown police files.

While his jail term was suspended in that case, he was incarcerated several times for crimes that followed.

His rap sheet includes convictions for theft, robbery, receiving stolen property, breaking and entering, and assault and sexual imposition, according to police, court, jail and prison records.

Police sources have said he has a habit of snatching purses and was once known for stealing purses in cemeteries from widows who visited their husbands' graves.

Police say, this time, he targeted the older couple at the recycling center.

Ruble's wife, Louise, 68, had left her purse on the seat of the couple's car as they deposited recyclables. John Ruble fought the thief, who police say was Hogan.

On the underside of Hogan's car, investigators found a belt loop they believe was ripped from Mr. Ruble's pants and several hairs torn from his scalp. The items are undergoing DNA analysis.

Hogan said the evidence was planted. He said his car was not confiscated upon his arrest but the morning after. Police held it for a few days as they waited for a search warrant. Hogan said he believes items could have been placed during that time.

The suspect also argues with an original police description of the purse thief as slender, very short and in his early 20s with dark hair and a pointed nose. Hogan said he is "almost 40" at age 36. His brown hair is graying, and he is listed as 5 feet 10 inches tall in jail documents.

Witnesses

However, police said witnesses have identified Hogan, through his picture, as being the man they saw driving the car before and after the crime.

Police on May 31 described the suspect car as a late 1980s or early 1990s blue or gray General Motors vehicle, possibly an Oldsmobile, Buick or Cadillac. The description was changed on June 1 to specify a late 1980s or early 1990s navy blue Cadillac.

While his criminal record paints him as a purse snatcher, Hogan said he has paid for the crimes he's committed, adding that he is not the only purse snatcher in the area.

"There have been a lot of purse thefts since I've been locked up," he said.

So why would police target Hogan?

The inmate says there has been a "lynch mob" after him ever since he wrote a seven-page letter to former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., alleging misconduct within the FBI.

The FBI used him as a snitch in their case against mob hitman Mark A. Batcho, who shot Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains in 1996, Hogan said.

He said he wrote a letter blasting the FBI after they failed to safeguard him. In 2001, Hogan was placed in a county jail holding area with Batcho, who assaulted him.

"They have been after me for the longest time because people's careers were in danger" because of the letter to Traficant, Hogan said.

He said police "made him a suspect" by forcing him to fit the crime.

Since the letter, local police and a parole officer have targeted him, Hogan said. The parole officer has been "relentless in his attempts" to put him behind bars since he was last released from state prison in September 2000.

Since then, Hogan has been in and out of jail on parole violations and new criminal charges and did about six months on misdemeanor receiving stolen property and other convictions.

He was last released from the jail on April 26.

'In bed sleeping'

Boardman police said they had identified Hogan as a suspect within hours of Ruble's death.

Hogan asked why police did not go immediately to his mother's house to look for him.

"If they did, they would have found me in bed sleeping," Hogan said. "Or did they go over there and see my car in the driveway and decide to pick me up later?"

Hogan said he had spent the night of May 30 at his mother's house, not waking until the following afternoon. He said his car was parked inside her garage.

While he said he was sleeping at the time of the crime, he also said he called his mother, who was not at home, around 1 or 1:30 p.m. He reached her on a cellular phone, asking her where the keys to his car were.

He later found them on top of the refrigerator and left the house around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. to go to his girlfriend's home in Youngstown.

Hogan said he was not alone in the home but was with his nephew's girlfriend.

Hogan said he returned to the Boardman home around 5 or 6 p.m. to take a pizza to his nephew's girlfriend, then went to Teenie's Tavern, where his sister and girlfriend both work. He spoke to his sister in the parking lot and was arrested there.

Hogan said his mother Beverly and his nephew's girlfriend have not gone to police but that his lawyer was given information about the alibi. Mark Lavelle, the defense attorney appointed to the case, declined to comment. Hogan faces an Aug. 14 trial.

Hogan's mother

Beverly Hogan said she did not want to go to police because she does not trust them. She said they have harassed her and her family, driving past the house and stopping visitors, over the past two years.

Instead of going to police, she said she called a "press conference" of local broadcast media.

"You have to know Michael, and he would go out of his way to help somebody before he'd hurt somebody," she said. "He'd even stop his car if there was an animal in the road. ... I'm not telling you this just because it's my son. I'm telling you this because it's true."

Hogan also has support from his sister Tammy, who said she is saddened by the arrest. She and her brother had grown close in recent months and he had become a friend and support to her.

"Michael said he didn't do it and I believe him," she said. "I think they're just trying to set him up and railroad him."

Hogan said he had been trying to clean up his act since his last prison release. This time, he said, he was reporting to a parole officer every day, working as a house painter, car detailer and at a tire center and had formed a relationship with a woman with whom he planned to leave the state.

Other than some drugs in urine tests, Hogan said he was making terms of his parole.

"I was trying to adjust and stay out of trouble," he said.

viviano@vindy.com




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