Defense: State’s star witness lied about Klaffka killing

bpurser@macon.comJuly 16, 2013 

PERRY -- The prosecution’s star witness lied to authorities to blame one of the men accused of strangling a Centerville man to death and dumping his body in a river, a defense attorney maintained Tuesday.

Matthew Jacob Pike, 28, and William Allen Slaton, 30, are charged with killing 25-year-old Justin Klaffka on April 10, 2012, because they believed he had ratted them out about a home invasion two days earlier in Warner Robins.

But Daniel Lee Slaton, 36, the key witness, made up a story about his brother to save himself, Perry attorney Russell Walker told jurors in his opening statement. Daniel Slaton originally was charged with the killing, but he pleaded guilty to a lesser offense after striking a deal with prosecutors.

William Slaton is not guilty, Walker told jurors. Walker said the brother’s statements to sheriff’s investigators changed until he came up with the right story.

“He stuck to that version of the story, and he cut a deal with the DA’s Office,” Walker said.

Pike and William Slaton are on trial in Houston County Superior Court on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, kidnapping with bodily injury and tampering with evidence in the slaying. Daniel Lee Slaton, 36, was charged with the same crimes, but he made a deal for a 30-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to a lesser offense of aggravated battery and other charges.

Klaffka’s body was discovered April 15, 2012, 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.

Slaton and Pike also are charged in the related armed robbery April 8 in the 400 block of South Pleasant Hill Road in Warner Robins. Judge Katherine K. Lumsden instructed jurors that they could only consider the armed robbery in relation to the motive for the slaying as alleged by prosecutors.

Anthony Scott testified Tuesday that he was at the Pleasant Hill home during the armed robbery. He told jurors that Klaffka held a gun to his head. He identified Pike and William Slaton in the courtroom as being the other two men who took part in the home invasion.

Prosecutors contend that Pike and William Slaton argued with Klaffka and beat him up at Daniel Slaton’s Dixie Trail residence on April 10. Daniel Slaton then drove his brother, Klaffka and Pike to the river -- stopping on the way for gas, Assistant District Attorney Greg Winters told jurors during his opening statement.

William Slaton came up from behind Klaffka and started choking him, Winters said. When that struggle ended, Pike started choking him -- holding Klaffka’s head under water.

“They struggle until he dies,” Winters told jurors.

But Jeff Grube, a Warner Robins attorney representing Pike, told jurors, “We dispute, categorically and absolutely, their theory of their case.”

He asked jurors to listen to the evidence and to separate Pike from William Slaton when weighing the evidence and testimony.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever know the truth about what happened,” Grube said.

Mop and bleach

Also Tuesday, Amanda Mitchell, Klaffka’s girlfriend at the time of his death, testified that the Slaton brothers, Pike and Pike’s brother, David Pike, met Klaffka in the roadway leading to the Dixie Trail residence on April 10, wanting to know where Klaffka had been.

Mitchell told jurors she overheard bickering and fighting. She later saw David Pike with a mop and bleach. She also testified that the Slaton brothers and Matthew Pike later returned to the home without Klaffka. Mitchell testified that Daniel Slaton told her, with William Slaton and Matthew Pike agreeing, that they’d dropped Klaffka off at a Pleasant Hill home at his request. She said that did not make sense.

Mitchell, who had gone back to a fire pit behind the home and later hid behind a shed when the men had argued, said she was scared. Earlier, she said, Scott had threatened them all over a telephone speaker phone about the home invasion two days earlier.

But under questioning by defense attorneys, Mitchell changed her story several times. She also admitted to not being initially truthful to sheriff’s investigators. She first questioned how would it be possible for the Slaton brothers and Pike to be involved, then later told investigators on a videotaped interview that Klaffka was killed after he was forced to “hit a lick,” street slang for an armed robbery/home invasion.

She testified she was in fear for her life from Matthew Pike and William Slaton as well as from Scott when interviewed by sheriff’s investigators. She talked on the videotape about a person identified only as “Hump,” which Walker in court records referred to as an associate of an unnamed drug dealer. Walker had argued during an earlier hearing that the defense might pursue a theory of defense that Klaffa was killed by a drug dealer or his thugs because he owed them money. Mitchell also said she was fearful of “Macon goons.”

Mitchell, who often argued with attorneys and was repeatedly instructed by Judge Lumsden to answer attorneys’ questions without elaborating or speculating, was often visibly upset on the witness stand. She told the court more than once that she did not want to answer any more questions.

Houston County sheriff’s Cpl. Patrick Alexander, a crime scene investigator, testified that stains on a laundry room wall of the Dix­ie Trail home tested positive for blood, as did a stain in the floor and on the side of a chair.

Dr. Melissa Sims, a GBI medical examiner, testified that Klaffka’s injuries were consistent with strangulation. She said he died of asphyxiation in conjunction with head injuries. She said there was no evidence of drowning.

Staff photographer Jason Vorhees contributed to this article.

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