CLEVELAND, Ohio — Closing arguments are set to begin Monday in the death penalty double-murder trial of a man accused of killing the owners of a Cleveland car dealership.
Testimony in the trial of Joseph McAlpin, 31, wrapped up Wednesday and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Brian Corrigan on Thursday read the jury the charges they are to consider after closing arguments on Monday.
If convicted of the most serious crimes of aggravated murder, McAlpin would have a chance to present evidence to the same jury that would decide whether to recommend life in prison or his execution.
McAlpin is the first defendant to represent himself in a death-penalty case in Cuyahoga County history, Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s spokesman Ryan Miday said. He is accused of killing Mr. Cars Inc. owners Michael Kuznik, 47, and Trina Tomola, 46, in execution-style slayings on April 14, 2017 inside their Collinwood dealership.
The slayings set off an uproar in the Collinwood community, where Kuznik’s father founded the business in 1977 and Kuznik took over in 2005.
The trial lasted more than two weeks and featured McAlpin questioning the witnesses, including the Tomola’s son, who found the bodies, and his co-defendant Andrew Keener, who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for his role in the crime and testified against McAlpin.
Prosecutors said McAlpin planned to steal several cars from the lot for quick cash and recruited his brother, Jerome Diggs, and Keener to help drive the cars off the lot. Diggs is also charged with aggravated murder in a pending case.
McAlpin went inside the dealership office as Keener and Diggs stayed in the car parked a block away, prosecutors said. McAlpin shot Kuznik in the face from across the showroom and followed him into a back office where he shot him at close range in the top of his head.
He killed Tomola near a back exit as she tried to run from the building, prosecutors said. McAlpin also fatally shot the family dog, Axel, according to prosecutors.
McAlpin disabled the surveillance cameras inside the building, walked outside and stole two cars, driving off in one of them, prosecutors said. His DNA was later found inside the stolen car, according to testimony heard during the trial.
McAlpin maintained his innocence throughout the trial and said his DNA was found inside the car and the business because he previously had been to the lot shopping for cars.
He also argued that Cleveland police rushed to find someone to arrest because of the outrage spurred by the killing. He also criticized the quality of surveillance video used during the trial.