The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld on Tuesday the jury conviction of a former Palmyra man sentenced to 45 years in prison for the brutal murder of another man in July 2013 in Detroit.

Jason Cote, 26, was found guilty in December 2015 in Somerset County Superior Court of killing Ricky Cole, 47, using a metal pipe to bludgeon him and then stomping on his head with his foot. The state’s prosecutor in the case, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, said the drug-related killing was “savage, brutal, outrageous and revolting.” Justice Andrew Horton, who presided over the trial, agreed, saying when he imposed the sentence that “This was a brutal, savage killing.”

In his appeal of the murder conviction to the state’s highest court, Cote argued that the lower court erred in denying his motion to suppress certain statements he made to police the morning of the murder and that Zainea committed prosecutorial misconduct when she told the jury in her opening statement and closing argument that he had stomped on the victim’s head, according to court documents. In his appeal, Cote also insisted that there was insufficient evidence to find him guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justices of the Law Court, as the high court also is known, disagreed and affirmed the judgment. They also found that Zainea did not commit prosecutorial misconduct during her opening statement or her closing argument, and that her comments were based on the evidence.

At the time of his death, the victim, Ricky Cole, was a drug dealer and the defendant, Jason Cote, was one of his customers, according to the Law Court document.

On the evening of July 17, 2013, Cote received a text message from Cole asking Cote to come to his mobile home on Main Street in Detroit, according to the document. Cote agreed and walked to Cole’s trailer, where the two smoked marijuana. After making “small talk,” Cole confronted Cote about Cote’s role in misleading agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who were conducting an investigation of Cole. Cote, who previously had agreed to lie to the investigators on Cole’s behalf, told Cole that he was having second thoughts about his continued involvement in the scheme. A physical altercation ensued and Cote, using a metal pipe, bludgeoned Cole to death, striking him multiple times in the head.

The pipe was found by investigators in a pond near Cole’s home. Cote claimed self-defense in that Cole had threatened him with a knife. The knife was never found.

Blood splatter in the house indicated that Cote had swung at Cole as many as four times after he was lying on the floor and that he had a skull fracture possibly caused by someone stomping on his head, according to experts who testified earlier in the trial.

After the beating, Cote took Cole’s pants, a comforter in the house, his cellphone, the knife and the pipe and left. He threw the pants, comforter and pipe into a pond on the property, and police recovered them the next day. His own clothes — which were stained with Cole’s blood — were found under a vacant mobile home next to his own in Palmyra.

As for Cote’s appeal to suppress statements he made to police, the lower court agreed that some of what he told state police investigators on July 18, 2013 — the day of the murder — could be excluded from trial testimony, but the rest was permissible under law. At no time before his arrest on July 24, 2013, was Cote administered Miranda warnings, according to the Law Court.

But the high court concluded that the noncustodial statements obtained on July 23 and 24 were not “tainted” by the July 18 Miranda violation and therefore did not warrant suppression. The statements were allowed during trial.

As for Zainea’s misconduct alleged in the appeal, Law Court justices said that a prosecutor is not an advocate, but is “the minister of justice” and is expected to present evidence “with vigor and zeal.”

The justices also dismissed the notion that there was insufficient evidence to convict Cote of murder. They said the state disproved Cote’s self-defense claims and found “every element” of murder.

“Self-defense disappeared when he stood over Mr. Cole and struck him on his head and stomped on his head,” Justice Andrew Horton said when he imposed the sentence.

The Law Court agreed.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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