SKOWHEGAN — The jury in the murder trial of Jason Cote won’t get to see a picture of a tattoo on victim Ricky Cole’s neck that Cote’s lawyer says shows his client may have acted in self-defense when he allegedly bludgeoned Cole to death in July 2013.

A tattoo on Cole’s neck, spelling out RIP — rest in peace — across his throat, may have convinced Cote that his life was in danger, defense attorney Stephen Smith told the judge Monday in pre-trial motions. Seeing that tattoo coming at you would be menacing, Smith told Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton, who will hear the case starting with jury selection Wednesday.

That, coupled with Cote’s relatively small stature and Cole’s larger frame, Cole’s reported criminal history and threats made to Cote by Cole before his death, all put Cote in fear of his life, Smith said.

But Assistant Attorney General Leanne Zainea objected to using a photograph of the tattoo on Cole’s neck, noting it was a booking photo from the county jail.

Horton agreed, saying the photo wouldn’t be used because it implied Cole’s involvement with the criminal justice system and would suggest to the jury that Cole had a propensity to violence.

Cote, 24, is charged with the intentional, knowing or depraved indifference murder in Cole’s death.


He is alleged to have beaten Cole, 47, with a pipe inside Cole’s mobile home at 24 Main St., Detroit. Police say Cote was high on drugs and was seeking more drugs when he went to Cole’s home on July 17, 2013. Cole was found dead the next morning from blunt force trauma to the head and neck, and the state medical examiner determined the death was a homicide.

Cote, dressed Monday in a sport coat, gray slacks and a printed shirt with no tie, has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. Monday’s rulings came on the first day of pretrial motions in the case.

Horton earlier Monday denied a defense motion to postpone Cote’s trial to give his attorney more time to find potential witnesses.

Horton said Smith has had ample time to find and subpoena witnesses and that the trial has already been postponed at least twice since Cole was bludgeoned to death in his Detroit home.

“In my view it is time for this case to come to trial,” Horton said.

Horton also ruled Monday that confidential records of counseling services that Kennebec Behavioral Health provided to Cole may contain relevant and admissible evidence and will be available on an “eyes only” basis for the attorneys to read, but not to take notes or make copies. The 1-inch-thick stack of documents has been filed with the court and is under seal, Horton said.


Confidential mental health records for Cole could include a statement he made to counselors about almost killing police officers and a statement he made about killing two people in a motor vehicle accident in New Hampshire two years before his death.

Cote’s attorneys said his client was aware of Cole’s threat to kill police officers as well as the statement he had made about previously killing other people, and that would have given him reason to fear Cole. That knowledge could lead to self-defense as a reason for the murder because Cote felt Cole could use force against him, according to court filings.

Horton said that if witnesses are called to testify about Cole’s past “bad acts,” then each will be interviewed away from the jury to determine if their testimony will be allowed on a person-by-person basis and only if the information is tied to Cote’s state of mind at the time of Cole’s death.

Horton also said he will allow the defense team to have a private investigator sit at their table during the trial and to exclude questions about previous employment of Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, the state’s chief medical examiner. Flomenbaum was terminated as chief medical examiner in Massachusetts after his staff temporarily misplaced a body, according to news reports. Both sides Monday agreed that Flomenbaum had no personal involvement in that event.

The court will reconvene Wednesday morning for jury selection and proceed directly to trial.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367


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