CLEVELAND, Ohio — The man accused of executing a couple at their used car dealership sought to poke holes on Monday into the police investigation into the double-homicide in his last effort to convince a jury of his innocence.
Joseph McAlpin, 31, who is believed to be the first defendant to represent himself in a capital murder in Cuyahoga County history, told the jury during his closing argument that he didn’t kill Michael Kuznik and Trina Tomola at the Mr. Cars Inc. dealership in April 2017.
“I’m not a monster,” he said.
If the jury finds McAlpin guilty of the most serious charges of aggravated murder, he’ll face another round of testimony in the penalty phase of the case. The jury will then recommend to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Brian Corrigan death or life in prison. Corrigan ultimately makes the decision on what sentence to impose.
McAlpin pointed out that prosecutors had no eyewitnesses to the shooting and no video evidence of what happened inside the Collinwood used car lot.
He criticized the DNA evidence prosecutors said showed he was inside the used car dealership and in a BMW that was stolen during the robbery.
McAlpin also said he did not have his phone at the time of the slayings. Investigators used information from the cellphone, including Google Location Services and cellphone tower pings from McAlpin’s phone.
And he called prosecutors’ star witness, co-defendant Andrew Keener, a liar who told police what they wanted to hear to spare himself.
Keener pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and testified against McAlpin at trial. He testified that McAlpin recruited him and McAlpin’s brother, who is also charged in the case, to steal cars from the lot for quick cash. Keener awaits sentencing.
“The only time he gave information for five months was when his back was against the wall,” McAlpin said. “He lied 40 times. Would any one of you trust Mr. Keener with the most important of your affairs?”
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Brian Radigan in his closing argument said without eyewitness testimony, and with the dealership’s surveillance video being destroyed during the robbery-turned-homicide, that investigators pieced together the case with DNA and cellphone information that showed McAlpin was the only person inside the business at the time of the slayings.
The couple and their dog Axel were killed execution-style inside the lot on sometime between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on April 14, 2017, Radigan said.
Radigan said a customer left the store about 5:03 p.m. McAlpin and Keener were talking on the phone about 16 minutes.
About 5:22 p.m., Kuznik and Tomola finish closing up outside the lost and walk back inside, followed by McAlpin about two minutes later.
Tomola talked to her 13-year-old daughter about 5:28 p.m. and another person about 5:30 p.m., as McAlpin was inside the building, Radigan said.
The prosecutors have not said if the owners knew McAlpin was in the building, but McAlpin said during his opening statement that he went to the business several times to test-drive cars.
No one emerged from the building for more than an hour. Prosecutors said during the trial that during that time, McAlpin shot Kuznik in the face, then again at point-black range on top of his head. He also shot Tomola in the head at close range as she tried to run out of a back exit, prosecutors said.
Radigan said McAlpin about 6:31 p.m. calmly walked out of the building, switched license plates on two cars, called Keener and drove off in a BMW.
Radigan said investigators found McAlpin’s DNA on a modem found inches from Tomola’s body, in Kuznik’s back pockets and in the stolen BMW.
Google Location Services put McAlpin’s location at the store at the time of the slayings, Radigan said, as did information from cellphone towers. The Google locations stopped around 5:30 p.m., which Radigan said happened because the modem with McAlpin’s DNA on it was ripped from the wall.
Cellphone towers later put McAlpin’s location on West 48th Street, where police found the stolen BMW, Radigan said.
McAlpin’s Google searches in the hours and days after the slaying showed he searched for information about how to sell a 2008 BMW 528i, the exact car that was stolen from the lot. He also searched for news updates on the investigation.
Radigan said that amount of circumstantial evidence could not be chalked up to a coincidence.
“He wants you to think it’s a big statewide conspiracy against Joseph McAlpin,” Radigan said. “That’s ridiculous and it makes me sick to my stomach.”
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