Murder confession contested

Defense attorneys for a Newport Township man accused of murder are arguing that the man’s recorded confession should be thrown out because a confidential informant persuaded him to confess to the crime with alcohol and promises of money.

They said the defendant is mentally ill, an alcoholic and has an IQ of 73, functioning at a fourth-grade level. Those factors helped him be persuaded into a false confession, according to the motion filed in court.

Mark F. Stevens, 48, of 2385 Bells Run Road, was arrested Aug. 1, after he told a wired informant that he had shot and killed his Bells Run Road neighbor, 42-year-old Patrick Arnold, more than four years earlier.

However, defense attorneys Ray Smith and Shawna Landaker have filed a motion to suppress those conversations, Smith said Wednesday.

“We believe that the confidential informant was actually an agent of the state and he made some promises and bought him some beer,” said Smith.

The motion, filed Monday in Washington County Common Pleas Court, sheds some light on the 23-and-a-half hours of conversations that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office used for grounds for arresting Stevens.

He was indicted in August for the murder, an unscheduled felony, and for a third-degree felony count of tampering with evidence for allegedly disposing of the murder weapon, which has not been found.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has not released details of the conversations, saying only that Stevens gave the informant information that related back to the crime scene.

Arnold was found July 24, 2008 on the porch of his home. He had died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.

The confidential informant in question, 46-year-old James Corder, of Macksburg, previously worked with law enforcement when he blew the whistle on Steven Medaris, an acquaintance who had offered to kill witnesses in Corder’s 2009 aggravated drug trafficking case.

That information played no role in Corder’s case, said then-Assistant Washington County Prosecutor Susan Vessels, and Corder was sentenced to six months in the Washington County Jail.

According to the motion, Corder first approached officers with information about Arnold’s murder March 31, 2010, about three-and-a-half months into the sentence.

“It should be noted that Detective (Dana) Spencer questioned Mr. Corder’s reliability,” said the motion, citing a statement Spencer wrote on April 21, 2010.

That statement is part of discovery and therefore not part of the regular filings in the case, said Smith.

Corder was wired to conduct conversations with Stevens, who was in jail at that time on an unrelated misdemeanor charge. However, those recorded conversations produced no evidence, states the report.

A second informant, Jim Stone, had an additional six taped conversations with Stevens in May 2011. According to the suppression motion, they produced no evidence against Stevens.

Corder was jailed again in June 2012 and again offered to give officers information about Arnold’s murder. This time, the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office filed for Corder to obtain a furlough, releasing him from jail July 10.

The defense argues that Corder took advantage of Stevens, “a chronic alcoholic” by repeatedly offering him drinks. In a July 17 conversation, Corder is quoted as saying “I’m gonna at least buy you a case of beer.” Four days later he tells Stevens he’ll bring him out “some boo-some brewskies.”

Corder also took advantage of Stevens’ low intelligence and diagnosed schizophrenia, argues Smith. Stevens was hospitalized at the Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry in June 2011 and January 2012 after he complained of “voices having a party and taunting him,” states the motion.

Corder told Stevens about elaborate seances, devil worship and blood in order to gain his trust, says the motion.

In one July 21 conversation, Corder tells Stevens about a man who was bleeding out of the eyes and ears at a seance that evening.

“Ah god Mark…it’s like a fever for a flavor of a Pringle,” Corder is quoted as saying.

“It’s just bizarre what he told Stevens to get him to admit some involvement,” said Smith.

Finally the defense argues that Corder promised Stevens money if he would admit to the killing. The motion alleges that Corder told Stevens that he had high level drug connections and would involve Stevens in the money-making operations. If Stevens admitted to killing Arnold, he could get rich, Corder told him.

“If you done Patrick just say, yea I killed Patrick,” said Corder.

One of the key reasons the confession should be invalidated is the way Stevens finally confesses, said Smith.

“Okay, I killed Patrick. Do I get my money now?” Stevens asked.

The statements made by Stevens were obtained in a manner that violated the federal and the Ohio Constitution, the motion asserts.

Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks declined to comment on the investigation Wednesday, saying that it had been turned over to prosecutors.

Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider said he had not yet seen the motion.

The state’s case against Stevens would be “not nearly as strong” if presiding Judge Julie Selmon of Monroe County Common Pleas Court grants the motion to suppress the confession, granted Schneider. But he said there is other evidence in the case.

Schneider has until May 15 to file a response, he said.

Hearings on current pending motions including the suppression motion and a motion to reduce Stevens’ bond are scheduled for that week.

Stevens is set to go to trial July 15.