Layne takes plea deal for 2nd-degree murder

By Katherine Wartell

The Manhattan man accused of shooting and killing Steve Freel in December 2011 pleaded no contest to an amended charge of second-degree murder in Riley County District Court Tuesday morning.

Michael “Blake” Layne, 20, subsequently was found guilty of second-degree murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping. He also had pleaded no contest to the latter charges.

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

Disney said Layne contacted his boss, Domingo Soto, that afternoon, wanting to borrow Soto’s .45-caliber handgun. Soto was convicted of first-degree murder on Thursday 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 North 48th Street. There, Disney said, Layne shot him.

Riley County detectives have said that Layne and Freel were past suspects in armed robberies together, but said their relationship soured.

The counts of aggravated robbery and kidnapping stem from an incident on Dec. 6, 2011, in which Layne and two cohorts robbed a Manhattan woman at gunpoint in the early morning hours at her residence.

Disney said Layne robbed the woman while armed with a rifle and that he forced her back into her residence where she was held down by one of Layne’s cohorts.

As a part of his 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.

District Judge Meryl Wilson presided over the hearing, asking Layne if he wanted to challenge Disney’s statements. He declined.

Wilson accepted Layne’s plea and found him guilty of the three counts.

As a part of the agreement, the state agreed to recommend a sentence of 287 months, or roughly 24 years, in prison. If Layne had been convicted of first-degree murder, he would have faced a mandatory life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

With this agreement, court officials said, Layne will have a definite release date at roughly the same time he would have been eligible for parole. He is represented by attorney Lora Ingels.

Layne’s sentencing is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. on Dec. 20 at the Riley County Courthouse.

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