Court records detail slaying of Centerville man, possible defense of accused

bpurser@macon.comMay 25, 2013 

PERRY -- Was Justin Klaffka beaten, strangled to death and his body dumped in the Ocmulgee River after a falling out among co-conspirators following a home invasion? Or was the 25-year-old Centerville man killed by a drug dealer or his thugs over a bad debt?

Those are questions a jury may have to decide based on a review of the case’s Houston County Superior Court file that includes motions from attorneys, hearing transcripts, arrest warrants and other documents. Attorneys on both sides were reluctant to talk about the case, which may go to trial in July.

Matthew Jacob Pike, 28, and William Allen Slaton, 30, face murder and related charges in the April 10, 2012, slaying. They also are charged in connection with an April 8, 2012, armed robbery in Warner Robins.

Daniel Lee Slaton, 35, was charged with the same crimes but struck a deal with the prosecution for a 30-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to a lesser offense of aggravated battery and other charges. He also agreed to testify against his brother and Pike.

Several days after Klaffka was killed, swimmers discovered his body, snagged on a branch in the water near a popular fishing hole at the Knowles Landing boat ramp off Ga. 96 in south Houston County.

The prosecution’s case

Daniel Slaton is expected to testify about prior incidents that the prosecution contends show motive for the killing, according to the court file.

One of those incidents is the April 8, 2012, home invasion in the 400-block of Pleasant Hill Road. Slaton and other witnesses are expected to testify that Pike assaulted Klaffka because he didn’t do his job right during the armed robbery.

“When they got back into the vehicle to leave, the defendant, Matthew Pike, stabbed Mr. Klaffka in the leg, injuring his leg, because he didn’t do his job,” Houston County Assistant District Attorney Greg Winters, who is prosecuting the case, stated in a transcript of a March 25 motions hearing.

Slaton also is expected to testify that his brother and Pike were upset and concerned Klaffka had gone to police or possibly the victim of the home invasion and told them what had happened.

When Klaffka arrived at Daniel Slaton’s Dixie Trail residence April 10, 2012, William Slaton and Pike repeatedly asked him where he’d been because he was gone for most of the day.

“A fight ensued where the two defendants beat him outside of their residence,” Winters said. “They then continued to beat him in the back of the residence.

“They then took him inside the residence where they washed him off, tried to clean him off. They then took him out to the river where he was killed,” Winters continued.

A witness told a sheriff’s investigator that Klaffka was last seen April 10 with the Slaton brothers and Pike when all were planning to rob a drug dealer the same day, according to court records.

The Slaton brothers and Pike allegedly “coerced” Klaffka into planning the robbery by “placing (Klaffka) in a choke hold and holding a knife up against the right side of his throat,” Houston County sheriff’s Sgt. Joe Middlebrooks stated in an affidavit.

A different witness told another sheriff’s investigator that it was “Danny and Matt” -- in reference to Daniel Slaton and Matthew Pike -- who allegedly beat Klaffka, according to the affidavit. The witness said all three men drove away in Slaton’s 1998 Chevrolet Blazer but only Slaton and Pike returned.

“When they arrived, they buried a blanket in the backyard of the residence,” the witness told the investigator, according to his search warrant affidavit. “The argument started over a diaper bag containing U.S. currency, which was taken during a home invasion.”

Klaffka’s body was pulled from the river April 15 without clothing or identification. Sheriff’s investigators did not release the identity until April 18 when a positive match was made of Klaffka’s fingerprints to a national database. The Slaton brothers and Pike were arrested and charged in the killing the same day.

Trace evidence of hair, blood and skin was collected from the Chevrolet Blazer that investigators believe came from Klaffka.

Also, investigators seized contents from a fire pit in the backyard of the Dixie Trail home, a black vehicle floor mat, a white hand towel with blood, a tan hoodie with stains, bleach and other items, records show.

William Slaton and Pike are accused of removing blood from the Dixie Trail home, the indictment stated. They are also accused of removing Klaffka’s clothing and burning them.

Pike also is accused of threatening Klaffka in another incident that reportedly happened within 10 days of the killing after allegedly shoplifting in a Walmart store. The Slaton brothers, Pike, Klaffka and an unidentified fifth person had returned to the parking lot and had gotten in the car.

“Pike turned around and put a knife to the victim’s throat,” stated Winters, “And told him that if you say what we did, ‘I will kill you.’ ”

Reached by telephone, Winters declined to comment on the case.

A possible defense

The defense may pursue a theory that drug dealers killed Klaffka because he owed them money, according to court documents.

Klaffka allegedly told three people that he owed money to a drug dealer who had threatened him and sent people to kill him. Russell Walker, a Perry attorney representing William Slaton, has sought to introduce testimony from those people.

“There’s other evidence that the drug dealer or the drug dealer’s associates had threatened to kill (Klaffka),” Walker stated in a transcript of the March 25 motions hearing.

The three people Walker identified as possible witnesses were Amanda Mitchell, Klaffka’s live-in girlfriend at the time of his death; acquaintance Christopher Lyons; and a person identified only as “Steve O.”

But their testimony may not be heard at trial.

Winters argued against it, and presiding Judge Katherine K. Lumsden said she was not going to allow testimony at trial about what Klaffka may have told others before his death.

“It is sort of nebulous,” Lumsden said, according to the transcript. “We seem to be in this sort of nebulous blame-the-drug-dealer thing, and it’s got to be a little more specific than that. What drug dealer is supposedly the person to whom he owes the debt such that they would murder him for it?”

However, Walker said he expected that the death threats Mitchell and Lyons could testify about also could be “corroborated by the armed robbery, which I’m sure the state will tell us about.”

Walker also had hoped to introduce testimony that Klaffka said shortly before his death that he had stolen a narcotic pain pill during the robbery.

Also, Walker said at the hearing that he is seeking to locate a person referred to as “Hump,” an alleged associate of the drug dealer. Winters objected to the introduction of testimony about what this person may have told others.

“We don’t even know who Hump is,” Winters said.

Walker agreed he would have to produce Hump to introduce the testimony.

Lumsden reiterated her position not to allow statements Klaffka may have made shortly before his death. The judge also said she’d be willing to revisit the issue of Hump’s testimony if he was identified and was able to be subpoenaed to testify.

“If Hump -- whoever that person may be, whatever his real name is -- if that witness comes in and says, ‘Joe Blow drug dealer sent me to threaten Mr. Klaffka and tell him I was going to kill him if he didn’t pay his debt,’ I think that’s admissible as an alternative theory of the crime because ... Hump is saying, ‘I was sent.’ ”

Reached by telephone, Walker declined to comment on the case. Jeff Grube, a Warner Robins attorney representing Pike, could not be reached for comment.

Walker is expected to introduce alibi witnesses, while Grube is expected to introduce alibi evidence.

Both defense attorneys have objected to the introduction of possible DNA evidence obtained from the Dixie Trail residence and the Chevrolet Blazer. The results of the GBI crime analysis of those samples and whether any evidence matched swabs taken from William Slaton and Pike was not included in the court record.

Both Slaton and Pike rejected plea deals offered by the prosecution of life with the possibility of parole. Both face a possible sentence of life without the possibility of parole if convicted.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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