Soto gets life sentence

By Katherine Wartell

A district judge sentenced a Manhattan man to life in prison Monday for providing the handgun used to murder Steve Freel, 31, in December 2011.

District Judge Meryl Wilson made the ruling after denying Domingo Soto’s request for a new trial.

Soto, 42, was found guilty in October of first degree murder for aiding and abetting in Freel’s death, although Soto did not fire the bullet that killed him. Court officials said that under Kansas law, a person found guilty of aiding first degree murder is considered just as responsible for the murder as the murderer.

The man who actually pulled the trigger, Michael Layne, 20, accepted a plea deal in November and was convicted of the amended charge of second-degree murder. Layne, who worked for Soto, did not testify during Soto’s trial.

It was on this point that Richard Seaton Jr., Soto’s lawyer, requested a new trial, arguing that Soto did not have the opportunity to confront Layne, though Layne’s reported words, as testified to by acquaintances of both men, were admissible as evidence in court.

According to court testimony, Soto admitted to detectives that he gave a .45-caliber handgun to Layne, who reportedly drove Freel to Soto’s residence on Dec. 6, 2011 to collect Soto’s gun before taking Freel to a rural road off of Tuttle Creek Boulevard, where his body was found the next morning.

During his trial, prosecutors argued that Soto knew Layne had the intention of shooting Freel when he gave him the gun, while Soto’s defense argued that no one, including Soto, believed Layne was capable of murder.

Detectives have said that Layne and Freel were former associates who were suspects together in past robberies, but that their relationship soured after tensions escalated following an investigation into their alleged crimes.

In October, Soto was also found guilty of possession of marijuana, possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute and possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.

He was found not guilty of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of stolen property. It had been alleged that Layne and two others robbed a Manhattan woman at gunpoint at the behest of Soto, and that Soto was in possession of her property.

Because Soto did not accept a plea deal, there is the possibility that he will serve more time than Layne, so long as the court accepts the state’s recommendation of a roughly 24 year prison sentence for Layne, as laid out in his plea agreement.

Layne is scheduled to be sentenced at 1:15 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 20 in Riley County District Court.

Soto faces the possibility of parole after 25 years.

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