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Published: 12/20/2008

Hearing is held in case of slaying of store clerk

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Belton Belton
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

A Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge is to determine whether statements a man accused in a West Toledo convenience-store clerk's August shooting death made to investigators can be admitted as evidence in his capital murder trial.

Judge Ruth Ann Franks heard more than four hours of testimony Friday from three police officers who interacted with Anthony Belton, the accused gunman, following his Aug. 13 arrest for the murder of Matthew Dugan.

Each of the officers testified that Mr. Belton exhibited no signs of drug or alcohol use prior to waiving his rights and agreeing to be interviewed. He gave hours of statements and led officers to the alleged murder weapon.

Judge Franks set a Feb. 19 hearing date during which she will render a decision. Mr. Belton's trial is scheduled for March 2.

Mr. Belton, 23, of 934 Cuthbert Rd., is charged with one count of aggravated murder and two counts of aggravated robbery. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.

In October, defense attorneys Pete Rost and Ronnie Wingate filed a motion to suppress Mr. Belton's statements to police "and further to suppress any evidence obtained from the disclosures of any statements."

The motion contends that Mr. Belton was not properly advised of his rights or, in the alternative, that Mr. Belton did not "knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his rights to remain silent and to have counsel present."

Throughout the hearing, assistant prosecutors created a timeline that began at about 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13, when Mr. Belton was arrested with two friends, including co-defendant Dymon Bolton. Mr. Belton was incarcerated in a holding cell at the police station for about five hours before his first interview with detectives. During that time he was given water, taken to the bathroom, and observed by officers.

Early the next morning, he was interviewed, escorted to his home where police recovered a gun, and interviewed again.

Officers Jason Lenhardt and Corey Russell, who each spent time observing Mr. Belton, each testified that the suspect did not appear to be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. Officer Lenhardt also testified that he had interacted with Mr. Belton at least a half-dozen times in the past and that he appeared no different on the night of his arrest.

Officer Russell testified that he spoke to Mr. Belton as he escorted him to a rest room.

"I asked him if he realized that he threw his life away," the officer testified, adding that Mr. Belton responded with a "flippant shrug" and words "to the effect that it was no big deal."

At defense attorneys' request, the entirety of Mr. Belton's interview with police was not played in open court, but will be examined by Judge Franks at a later time.

Mr. Rost asked the officers if they had asked Mr. Belton about any prescription medications he might be taking. They said they had not.

Dean Mandros, chief of the criminal division for the county prosecutor's office, noted that during his initial appearance before Judge Franks on Aug. 28, Mr. Belton told the judge he had taken no medication during the previous 14 days. Mr. Rost objected to the question at the time.

Mr. Belton is accused of entering the BP convenience store at 3306 Dorr St. at about 7 a.m. Aug. 13 armed with a gun. Authorities said he demanded money from Mr. Dugan, then next demanded telephone calling cards from behind the counter. When Mr. Dugan turned around to comply with the latter order, he was shot, Mr. Mandros said.

Bolton, 18, of 623 Ranch Drive, pleaded guilty Dec. 2 to two counts of obstruction of justice for lying to authorities when interviewed about the murder. He faces 10 years in prison when sentenced Monday by Judge Denise Ann Dartt.

Tony Bivens, Jr., 17, of 1024 Ranch Drive, is believed to have driven a getaway car. He is charged with one count of complicity to commit aggravated robbery and is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 26. If convicted, he faces up to eight years in prison.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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