July 26, 2013

Court appearance today for Palmyra man charged with Detroit murder

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — A Palmyra man charged with murder in the bludgeoning death of another man July 18 in Detroit is scheduled to make his first appearance in court on today.

Jason Cote

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Doug Fernald talks about his neighborhood in Detroit Thursday, the day after Jason Cote was arrested on a charge that he murdered Ricky Cole in a nearby home on July 18. Fernald said the neighborhood is typically quiet but has changed over the years.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Detroit’s last homicide was in 1982

DETROIT — The last homicide in this Somerset County town was in April 1982 when a 41-year-old man was shot to death in an apparent dispute over farm property, according to an Internet archive search.

The Associated Press reported that Martin Witham was killed by a blast from a shotgun fired by his partner, Stephen Burtchell, 28, in the kitchen of a house on Bean Road in Detroit.

Then-Senior Assistant Attorney General Pat Perrino said at the time it was an apparent case of self-defense. No charges were brought, according to the report.

Perrino said Burtchell fired when Witham lunged at him with a bayonet-type knife in a dispute about property they were trying to sell. Other people witnessed the incident, according to the Associated Press report.

D. Harlow

Jason C. Cote, 22, of Hurd’s Corner Road, is scheduled to appear at 1:30 p.m. in Somerset County Superior Court.

Cote, who also has a St. Albans address, is charged with murder in the death of 47-year-old Ricky Cole. The State Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Cole died from blunt force trauma. His body was found July 18 in his mobile home at 24 Main St. in Detroit.

A lawyer will be appointed to represent Cote for the day Friday and Cote will be allowed to request a permanent court-appointed attorney.

Police so far are not offering details about the motive in the killing or what was used to kill Cole. A District Court clerk said Thursday there is no affidavit for Cote’s arrest on file yet at the court.

Cote is being held without bail at the Somerset County Jail in East Madison.

The 22-year-old has a short misdemeanor criminal record in Somerset County, including forgery, theft and failure to appear in court, according to court records.

Cote was arrested Wednesday night at the home of his grandmother in St. Albans, according to Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland. He had been staying with his brother on nearby Hurd’s Corner Road.

Doug Fernald, 64, who has lived on Main Street in Detroit most of his life, said the neighborhood has changed dramatically over the last 20 years as the economy dipped and jobs left the area.

“It used to be very close-knit; you knew everyone and were in each other’s homes,” Fernald said from the porch of his 1857 farmhouse. “Now, people move in and move out. It’s become very transient and you don’t know their names; you wave to them and that’s it.”

Fernald, a retired case worker for a career center, said families, including his own, lived in the same houses for generations in tiny Detroit, which the 2010 U.S. Census reports as having 852 residents.

He lived in the house with his mother until her death five years ago.

Fernald said traffic has increased on Main Street, but people seldom stop anymore.

“The houses you see now are empty and neglected; foreclosed upon, abandoned,” he said. “They were all family homes. The old families died, and now the people come and go.”

He said the mobile homes where the July 18 murder happened have been there for about 15 years. Fernald said he didn’t know Cote or Cole.

“I saw nothing suspicious,” he said.

Somerset County sheriff’s deputies and Pittsfield police officers were sent to the Main Street home just after 3 a.m. July 18 in response to a report that a man who was dead in his home, according to McCausland.

The State Police Major Crimes Unit investigated and declared the death suspicious. Investigators placed about a dozen yellow evidence markers in the middle of the yard as part of the investigation and cordoned off the area with yellow tape.

Cole’s body was removed about 10 a.m. that day.

A member of the State Police Evidence Response Team was seen July 18 leaving a mobile home on remote Dogtown Road in neighboring Palmyra and carrying paper shopping bags marked as evidence.

The home’s owner, David Lafleur, said at the time that a friend of his had stayed the night, but he wasn’t sure whether the friend was a suspect in the suspicious death.

Police also were seen interviewing a young man outside Lafleur’s rural mobile home that day. Lafleur said police removed a pair of pants, a shirt, sneakers and other items worn by the person they interviewed in connection with the Detroit death.

(Continued on page 2)

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Ricky Cole

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