By Ed Runyan
The opening statements and testimony in the murder trial of Michael S. Burns, 33, of Mineral Ridge narrowed the focus of what jurors will be asked to decide.
Testimony resumes today in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Defense attorney Ronald D. Yarwood admitted to jurors in opening statements Monday the same thing Burns admitted during a videotaped interview with Detective Jim Robbins of the Niles Police Department that was later shown to jurors — that Burns was part of the five-person crew that attempted to break into Roy Hahn’s house on Niles-Cortland Road near U.S. Route 422 in Niles on July 12.
What Yarwood and Burns didn’t admit was that Burns and his accomplices knew someone lived in the home.
But Chris Becker, an assistant county prosecutor, said there were numerous clues that someone might be inside.
Furthermore, Burns admitted to the detective that he and one of his accomplices, Terry Allen, 37, of Mineral Ridge, started to think someone might live there as they tried to break into the side door and then the front door.
A short time later, a light came on inside the house and then Burns heard a blast from a 16-gauge shotgun fired through the front door of Hahn’s house, Burns told Robbins. Then he felt the wetness of blood in his right arm from the gunfire.
Hahn had fired the shot.
Allen had been knocked backward from the porch — literally knocking him out of one shoe and leaving behind a crow bar still leaning against the front door.
He was pronounced dead at the scene, his latex gloves stained with blood, a black mask pulled down around his chin, wearing camouflage pants and shirt, lying face down near the porch. The same shot that struck him in the chest passed through and hit Burns.
County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said in August that Hahn would not face charges because the state’s “Castle Doctrine” grants Hahn the right to protect himself while defending himself or another person in his home or car.
Allen’s wife, Nichole Allen, 35, later showed up at Hahn’s house and told police she thought the man lying dead in front of the house was her husband, Robbins testified.
Nichole Allen and another woman had dropped off Burns, Terry Allen and a third man and intended to return at just after midnight to pick them up, Burns told the detective.
Police charged Burns with his role in the crime a week after the incident.
The final two accomplices are Scott Crislip, 18, of Niles, who was standing near Burns and Terry Allen at the time of the shotgun blast but was not injured, and Mindy C. Sierra, 32, of Niles, who was in the getaway van with Nichole Allen, Burns said.
All five are charged with Terry Allen’s murder and other offenses in a type of prosecution not previously attempted in the county. It allows a person to be punished for the murder or involuntary manslaughter of a co-defendant.
Conviction is called for as long as the death is the “proximate result” of another crime being committed — in this case attempted aggravated burglary — Becker said.
Becker admitted there is one wrinkle in the case — the fact that Hahn admitted he had used cocaine earlier that night. But Robbins testified that Hahn didn’t try to hide that information, and he didn’t appear to be impaired by the drug.