Trial of second suspect in fatal Middletown shooting again continued


Keegan Payne has spent two holiday seasons in the Butler County Jail awaiting his murder trial. But that court date was continued again Monday morning.

Payne, 20, of Yankee Road in Middletown, was arrested shortly after the shooting death of Stephan Cotter on Dec. 8, 2017 in what police say was a robbery gone bad. He has been held in jail in lieu of a $1.25 million bond.

Payne is also charged with three counts of aggravated robbery and improperly furnishing a firearm to a minor.

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Co-defendant Paul Dillon Craft, 16, was charged with aggravated murder, three counts of robbery and tampering with evidence. Craft’s case was sent to adult court in January 2018 after a juvenile court judge found probable cause he committed the crimes. Because of his age and the seriousness of the charges, the case is a mandatory bind over to adult court.

In August, Craft pleaded guilty to murder with a gun specification and was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.

Payne’s case was continued several times at pre-trial hearings before a September trial date was set.

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Chris Pagan, Payne’s defense attorney, said during previous hearings he was working on the case but wanted to continue the hearings after receiving correspondence from Craft.

“He (Craft) is indicating in letters to me that my client was not involved,” said Pagan, who noted Craft has exculpatory evidence in his client’s case.

On Monday, Pagan said co-counsel Melynda Cook Howard has a conflict and is not available for the four-day trial this week. The trial was rescheduled by Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Pater for May 13.

Middletown police say Payne and Craft conspired to rob Stephan Cotter, 22.

Craft told police several versions of what happened, but he eventually confessed that he met with Cotter and another man with the intent to purchase marijuana and Xanax. He pulled a gun and attempted to rob Cotter, Middletown Detective Jon Hoover said at a January 2018 hearing.

A shot was fired, and Cotter was hit in the stomach and died.

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