Middletown teens charged with murder: New twist in case delays setting trial date

Trial dates for two Middletown teens facing murder charges for an alleged robbery gone bad in December have not yet been set, and one attorney now says there is evidence his young client was not involved.

Paul Dillon Craft, 16, faces charges of aggravated murder, three counts of robbery and tampering with evidence. Craft’s case was sent to adult court in January after a juvenile 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.

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The co-defendant in the case, Keegan Payne, 19, has also been indicted by a grand jury for murder, three counts of aggravated robbery and improperly furnishing a firearm to a minor. His bond is set at $1.25 million.

Payne appeared Tuesday in Butler County Common Pleas Court, where his defense attorney Chris Pagan said he is continuing to work on the case, but wanted to set another pretrial hearing for next month.

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

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 up with Cotter and another man with the intent to purchase marijuana and Xanax, but instead pulled out a gun and attempted to rob Cotter, Middletown Detective Jon Hoover said at a January hearing.

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A shot was fired, and Cotter was hit in the stomach and died. Hoover said Craft admitted to shooting Cotter but said he did not mean to do it.

The teen said he purchased the gun from a drug user on Crawford Street and then threw it in the river after the shooting, Hoover testified. The gun was not recovered by police.

Last month, defense attorney Dennis Adams filed a motion suggesting Craft is not competent to stand trial. A forensic psychological evaluation was ordered by Butler County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer McElfresh. Craft is scheduled to be back in court on July 5 for a competency evaluation hearing.

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