Wednesday, January 11, 2017
By Joe Gorman
A jury found Michael Paige guilty of killing a man in 2012 who was arguing with Paige’s cousin over stolen electricity.
Jurors in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court took a little more 21/2 hours Tuesday to convict Paige for the March 1, 2012, killing of Munir Blake, 31, at a Lora Avenue apartment building.
The jury found Paige guilty of murder and tampering with evidence. Judge Maureen Sweeney will sentence him at a later date.
Paige, 26, was tried in 2014 for Blake’s death, and a jury found him not guilty of aggravated murder but deadlocked on lesser charges of murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors opted to retry him on charges of murder and tampering with evidence.
Assistant Prosecutor Rob Andrews said the big difference between this trial and the last one is he opted to play Paige’s confession to detectives for jurors to see. He said he did not play it at the last trial for “tactical reasons.”
“It appears that was the right decision at this time,” Andrews said.
Members of Blake’s family were subdued but happy after the verdicts were read.
“I’m just glad that justice is served,” said Blake’s mother, Sallie Jones.
“Finally,” added Lauren Kyle, Jones’ daughter-in-law. “It took us five years, but we got it [justice].”
Andrews said he was glad the family was able to finally see a guilty verdict.
“I feel terrible it lasted this long, but in the end I believe the jury came through,” Andrews said.
Before attorneys gave their closing arguments late Tuesday morning, the woman at the epicenter of the case invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Jasmin Fletcher, 26, who police and prosecutors say triggered the argument with Blake because he accused her of stealing electricity from his apartment, refused to answer questions as a defense witness in the trial.
Police said Paige, Fletcher’s cousin, shot Blake several times in the lobby of the apartment building Paige shared with Fletcher.
Paige’s attorney, Mark Lavelle, asked Judge Sweeney to order Fletcher to testify. Fletcher has pleaded guilty to a charge of tampering with evidence in the case, and her attorney, Michael Kivlighan, advised her not to testify because she has yet to be sentenced.
Lavelle told the judge Fletcher cannot invoke her Fifth Amendment rights if she is awaiting sentencing, but Kivlighan cited a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case that says until a defendant is sentenced, the case still is considered open and a defendant can use his or her Fifth Amendment rights,
Judge Sweeney agreed and said she would not force Fletcher to testify.
As he did in the first trial, Lavelle said in his summation, police found no evidence of gunshot residue on his client but they did on Fletcher.
Prosecutors have countered that Blake was killed in a small room, and that gunshot residue would have settled on her. They also said Paige was not found until about eight hours after Blake’s death, which is enough time for Paige to have washed any residue off his hands.