By Peter H. Milliken
Michael Paige will be in prison for 18 years to life for a murder precipitated by the theft of electricity that occurred nearly five years ago.
Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court imposed the sentence Tuesday.
Earlier this month, a jury found Paige guilty of killing a man, who was arguing with Paige’s cousin over stolen electricity.
Jurors took a little more than 21/2 hours to convict Paige of murder and tampering with evidence in the March 1, 2012, shooting death of Munir Blake, 31, at a Lora Avenue apartment building.
When Paige, 26, was tried in 2014 for Blake’s death, a jury acquitted him 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.
The tampering charge pertains to Paige’s admission he sold the murder weapon on the street after Blake’s death, said Robert Andrews, an assistant county prosecutor.
Upon the advice of his lawyer, Mark Lavelle, Paige did not address the judge before she imposed the sentence.
Lavelle said Paige maintains his innocence. An appeal will be filed on his behalf.
Lauren Kyle, a friend of Blake’s family, said Blake, a married father of five, had just graduated from a motorcycle-repair training program when he was slain.
“The decision that Michael Paige made to end Munir’s life was shattering” to Blake’s family, Kyle told the judge in a victim-impact statement on behalf of the family.
Andrews said the big difference between this trial and the earlier one is that he opted to play Paige’s confession to detectives for jurors.
He said he did not play it at the previous trial for “tactical reasons.”
Members of Blake’s family were subdued, but they said they were satisfied after the verdicts were read.
Before lawyers gave their summations, 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.
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 require Fletcher to testify.
A motion hearing and sentencing for Fletcher are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday before Judge Sweeney.
As he did in the first trial, Lavelle said in his summation that 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.