December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Defense: Prosecution holding back evidence in murder case

Tristen Belfiore

Tristen Belfiore

ELYRIA — Attorneys representing the interests of accused killer Tristen Belfiore and his family have asked a magistrate to compel prosecutors to turn over the evidence they plan to use against the 17-year-old when they try to move his case to the adult criminal justice system.

Defense attorney Michael Towne said during a hearing Friday that the only information he’s received from prosecutors in the case is a death certificate for Davion Strupe, who was shot and killed July 1 in the Westway Garden Apartments in Elyria, and a list of potential witnesses.

Towne told Lorain County Juvenile Magistrate Steve List that he believes prosecutors don’t want to disclose the information until the case is transferred to adult court. Because of his age and the nature of the charges against him, state law mandates that Belfiore be tried as an adult, but before that can happen a probable cause hearing must be held.

“I believe what the state is doing is hiding the ball before the probable cause hearing,” Towne said.

But Assistant County Prosecutor Amy Price said that her office has turned over all of the evidence that the law requires before the probable cause hearing. She said that if additional information, such as exculpatory evidence, becomes available it will be turned over to Towne, lawyers representing Belfiore’s parents, and the guardian ad litem who represents Belfiore’s interests.

“It is a huge mischaracterization that the state is not providing discovery,” Price said.

Towne said that he’s learned more about the case from reading the newspaper than he has from prosecutors. He said he doesn’t even have any police reports on the matter, something he believes he’s entitled to under the law.

Those documents and witness statements should be provided under open file discovery, which requires prosecutors to share all the information they have about a case with defense attorneys, Towne said.

Price said that reports from detectives working the case are considered investigatory work product and not subject to release to defense attorneys at this point in the case against Belfiore.

Price also said there are concerns about threats to witnesses in the case, but Towne said the only evidence that prosecutors have provided to justify withholding witness names is an article from The Chronicle-Telegram detailing preliminary hearings in Elyria Municipal Court for two of Belfiore’s codefendants.

During the hearings for Todd Wells and Markus Martin last month, Elyria City Prosecutor Scott Strait said there had been “credible threats” against witnesses and revealing their identifies could place them in danger.

List said he wanted to hear from Elyria police on the nature of the threats in a hearing next week before ruling on whether to keep Belfiore’s legal team from learning the names of additional witnesses.

Towne said another problem is that he and the other lawyers don’t know which charges they need to prepare to defend Belfiore from at the probable cause hearing, which is scheduled for Aug. 26.

Belfiore is charged with aggravated murder, kidnapping, aggravated burglary, probation violation and two counts of murder.

But in court documents filed Monday, Assistant County Prosecutor Adam Bryda wrote that prosecutors intend to drop all but one murder charge before the probable cause hearing. Price said she wasn’t prepared to actually take that step during Friday’s hearing because she was only filling in for Bryda and Assistant County Prosecutor Freddie Springfield at the hearing.

Police have said a large group of people was looking for Strupe, 24, the night of the killing because he had been selling drugs in the area. The group tracked him to a Garden Street address and then forced their way inside and dragged Strupe outside, where he was kicked, punched and hit with items including brick paver stones and a lawn chair.

Strupe was shot once by Belfiore as he tried to flee, according to police.

In addition to Wells, Martin and Belfiore, Anthony Marcano is charged with murder in the case. Numerous other people are facing aggravated riot charges for their alleged involvement in the melee.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.