Investigator testifies in electricity theft murder trial
By Joe Gorman
The lead detective in the case where a man was murdered over stolen electricity testified Friday that the main suspect changed his story three times before he was finally arrested.
Detective Sgt. Rick Spotleson of the Youngstown Police Department also said in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court that the defendant, Michael Paige, 26, tried to pin the blame on a former co-defendant.
Paige is charged with killing Munir Blake, 31, on March 1, 2012, inside a Lora Avenue apartment building on the North Side. Police said Blake was arguing with another tenant, Jasmine Fletcher, after Blake caught her tapping into his power line and that Paige, who is Fletcher’s cousin, killed Blake then ran away.
Paige was tried for Blake’s death in 2014 and was found not guilty of aggravated murder but jurors deadlocked on lesser charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter. Prosecutors opted to retry him, and he has been in the county jail ever since.
A jury was selected Wednesday and began hearing testimony Thursday. Judge Maureen Sweeney is hearing the case.
Spotleson testified that he interviewed Fletcher first and gave her a gunshot residue test and traces of gunshot residue were found on her. Paige was not interviewed until after midnight on March 2, 2012, after police found him at his home on Bennington Avenue. No gunshot residue was found on him, but Spotleson said under direct examination by Assistant Prosecutor Rob Andrews that Paige had enough time to wash the residue off if he wanted to. Spotleson said it was about eight hours after Blake was killed that the test was given to Paige.
Spotleson testified that Paige told him under questioning that first he was not at the building, then he said he was there and heard shots and saw Fletcher run away. When Spotleson told Fletcher what Paige said in her statement, Fletcher then told Spotleson that it was Paige who shot Blake. Spotleson then got a warrant for Paige’s arrest and he confessed, Spotleson said.
As he did during the first trial, Paige’s attorney, Mark Lavelle, concentrated on the fact that his client did not have gunshot residue on him but Fletcher did. Spotleson said because there were a lot of shots fired in a small area – the lobby of the apartment – that everyone in the lobby would have had gunshot residue, which explains why Fletcher had gunshot residue on her. Blake also had gunshot residue, Spotleson testified.
Lavelle asked Spotleson if he believes Paige washed the residue off him. Spotleson said the only thing he was sure of was he did not question Paige until more than eight hours passed after Blake was killed.
“I’m telling you he [Paige] did not have gunshot residue on his hands, and it was eight hours later,” Spotleson said.