Layne given 24 years in prison for murder

By Katherine Wartell

A district judge sentenced the Manhattan man accused of shooting and killing Steve Freel in December 2011 to 287 months, or roughly 24 years, in prison in Riley County District Court Thursday afternoon.

District Judge Meryl Wilson sentenced Michael Layne, 20, in accordance with a plea agreement Layne signed in November that recommended he receive 165 months for the second degree murder of Freel, 30. His body was found dead from a gunshot wound to the chest on a rural road off of Tuttle Creek Boulevard on Dec. 7, 2011.

Wilson also sentenced Layne to 61 months for aggravated robbery and 61 months for kidnapping in relation to a Dec. 6, 2011 incident where Layne robbed a Manhattan woman at gunpoint.

In that incident, the woman reported that Layne and two cohorts came to her apartment in the early hours of the morning armed with a rifle. She said they tied her up and stole multiple items from her residence.

As a part of Layne’s plea agreement, the original charge of first degree murder was amended to second degree murder and four counts related to the aggravated robbery were dropped. Those counts were conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, felony theft and misdemeanor theft.

Freel’s sister, Lisa Freel, spoke at the sentencing, telling Layne that he has a long road ahead of him and that she feels sorry for him.

She told the court that her brother, a father of five, had been a statistic his entire life and that despite his troubled past, he was not a bad man.

Riley County police officials have said that Freel and Layne were former associates whose relationship soured when tensions escalated following an investigation into crimes the men allegedly committed together in the Manhattan area.

In a previous hearing, Assistant County Attorney Barry Disney said that Layne had argued with Freel, 31, on the afternoon of Dec. 6, 2011 after Freel had gone over to Layne’s residence to buy marijuana. Disney said it was after this that Layne decided to kill Freel.

He said Layne contacted his boss, Domingo Soto, that afternoon, wanting to borrow Soto’s .45-caliber handgun. Soto was sentenced for first degree murder on Monday for providing Layne with the gun, since Kansas law does not distinguish between first degree murder and aiding first degree murder.

Disney told the court that Layne drove Freel to Soto’s residence later that afternoon under the guise of selling Freel a gun. Once there, he said, Soto gave Layne his gun and Layne drove Freel, at gunpoint, to a rural road in the 5300 block of N. 48th Street, where Layne shot him.

Judge Wilson sentenced Soto to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Unlike Layne, Soto did not accept a plea agreement and his case went to trial in October.

The sentencing wrapped up nearly a year of hearings related to the murder. Layne was arrested for the crime on the same day Freel’s body was found.

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