District Magistrate Judge William Malcolm bound Michael Layne over for trial Friday for the alleged first degree murder of Steve Freel, 31, whose body was found on a dirt road off Tuttle Creek Boulevard on Dec. 7, 2011.
Layne, 19, appeared Friday with his court-appointed attorney, Jillian Waesche, for his preliminary hearing, during which, the state called RCPD officials, a former acquaintance who is accused of committing aggravated robbery with Layne and the woman Layne and the acquaintance are accused of robbing at gunpoint.
The state first called former detective Alan Riniker, now a civilian investigator for the RCPD, to the stand. Riniker said he examined the crime scene during the late morning of Dec. 7, after Freel’s body was found near the 5300 block of N. 48th Street by a property owner in the area. Riniker said that Freel’s body appeared to have been on the road all night.
Riniker testified that Freel had no obvious injuries upon initial inspection, but found tears to his clothing, on his right sleeve and right front pocket of his jacket and sweatshirt to be odd. He said further investigation revealed what appeared to be a gunshot wound on Freel’s chest.
He testified that Freel’s clothing was otherwise intact and unremarkable, suggesting no indication of a violent altercation. He said that the coroner determined that a single gunshot wound from a .45-caliber bullet killed Freel, damaging his right lung, heart, aortic artery and spine.
Reyna Youdath, 18, a California native and freshman at K-State and the state’s second witness, told the court about allegedly robbing a Manhattan woman with Layne and Areale Hanks, 25, also a K-State student, in the early morning of Dec. 6.
Youdath told the court that she met Layne through a mutual acquaintance in the fall 2011 and that they shared a common interest of smoking marijuana. Youdath testified that she also did methamphetamine with Layne at his residence, 1016 Pottawatomie Court, and that she had injected the drug prior to allegedly robbing Nicole Autrey at her 914 Hunting Ave. apartment on Dec. 6.
Youdath said that after the alleged robbery, she met up with Layne later in the day, and that he told her of allegedly killing Freel by driving him to an isolated road and shooting him.
Youdath testified that Layne told her Freel had been causing problems for him and that Freel had been sending Layne pictures of guns, which he took as a threat. She also testified that Layne said Freel had been showing an interest in purchasing a gun, and Layne believed he wanted one so that Freel could shoot him.
RCPD officials have said that Freel and Layne were suspects in past armed robberies in Manhattan. In 2009, Freel was convicted of residential burglary in Shawnee County.
Youdath said that Layne told her Domingo Soto, 41, accused of aiding and abetting first degree murder, instructed him to “take care of” Freel after Layne, who worked at Soto’s horse ranch, asked for his advice. Youdath alleged that Layne sold drugs for Soto.
Youdath also described how Layne allegedly drove Youdath, along with Devin and Tevin Bruce to the crime scene after they did not believe Layne had shot Freel. At the scene, Youdath said Layne stole Freel’s backpack.
The Bruce brothers are both charged with, among other things, obstructing the legal process, for allegedly trying to steal firearms, related to past crimes, from Layne’s residence on Dec. 7.
Youdath, represented by defense attorney Brenda Jordan, reached a plea agreement with the state, for which she agreed to give information about Layne in exchange for the state’s recommendation of a 28-month prison sentence for pleading guilty to aggravated robbery. Officials agreed to drop Youdath’s four other charges, which were aggravated burglary, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, kidnapping and felony theft.
Det. Ryan Runyan told the court that he was familiar with both Freel and Layne prior to the murder. He also testified that he interviewed Layne following the investigation into the murder and that Layne told him several versions of his alleged involvement in the crime.
In one version, Runyan said Layne told him he shot Freel after Soto pointed a gun at him and directed him to shoot Freel. In another version, Layne told Runyan it was Soto who shot Freel. In his final version, told to Runyan on Dec. 9, Runyan said Layne told him that Freel had come over to his on Dec. 6 and pointed a .22-caliber gun to Layne’s chest. Layne told Runyan that he later tossed the gun in a river.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Waesche asked Malcolm to reduce Layne’s charge to voluntary manslaughter, but Malcolm said that the state had shown probable cause to charge Layne with first-degree murder.
Layne’s arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 21 in front of District Judge Meryl Wilson. Layne remains confined to the Riley County Jail on $1,000,000 bond.
Soto, Hanks, Devin and Tevin Bruce and Youdath were arrested over the course of Freel’s murder investigation. The Bruce brothers are also scheduled for an arraignment on Feb. 21, while Youdath and Hanks have status hearings on the same day