WESTON - The guilty plea of an Ohio man charged in connection with a Weston cold-case murder was not accepted by the circuit court judge of Lewis County Tuesday.
David Martin Hughes, 58, of Archbold, Ohio, attempted to enter a guilty plea by information to conspiracy to commit armed robbery in connection with the 1999 murders of Mary Friend and Maxine Stalnaker in Lewis County.
Stalnaker and Friend both were reported missing in December 1999. Their car was found in Harrison County a short time after their disappearance. According to previous Lewis County Magistrate Court records, Hughes, who was the owner of the Wilderness Plantation at the time, allegedly conspired with two others to kidnap, rob and kill the two women.
Joseph Edward Metz, 39, of Horner and Charles Steven Freeman, 51, of Archbold, Ohio, also are suspects in the cold case. Metz is the son of Friend and the grandson of Stalnaker. Their hearings will take place at a later date.
Hughes' guilty plea was initially rejected by 26th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall, but after a period of recess, Hughes then re-entered a guilty plea to the same charge. The second time, Hall also did not accept it, but this time said he would take Hughes' plea under advisement.
As part of the plea agreement, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brian Bailey said that Hughes would testify for the state in court when he is needed, and that he could travel to his out-of-state home in Ohio. Hall said he would consider the plea once Hughes complies with the agreement.
Hughes was permitted to remain on his cash or surety bond of $50,000 - unless he violates it - and is not permitted to visit any venue that serves alcohol. He also is not to be in contact with Metz or Freeman.
Bailey said that when the case was reopened in 2013, Hughes was offered a chance for immunity to testify, but that nothing was formerly entered into the system.
"We believe it's in the best interest of the state to allow Mr. Hughes to testify," Bailey said, later adding, "We're trying to seek justice for these women, is what it amounts to, your honor."
When Hughes entered his plea the first time and described the basis for it, Hall said he did not give enough information for a plea of conspiracy to be accepted. Hughes said the conspiracy started with a phone call from Metz. He said that Metz's mother was in possession of a tablet which Hughes said he feared contained information about his illegal drug activities.
"I told him to take care of it," Hughes said, adding that he meant for Metz to retrieve the tablet and return it to him or his secretary.
Hall said that asking for his tablet to be returned did not make him guilty of conspiracy.
"That doesn't tell me anything about there was a plan. There must be an agreement to commit robbery," Hall said.
Hughes said that the conversation with Metz wasn't a long one, and Hall reiterated that his statement wasn't legally sufficient for him to accept the plea. He then granted a recess for Hughes to consult with his attorney.
Hughes returned with a prepared statement to read.
"On or about Dec. 1 1999, Metz called me and told me that Mary Friend and Maxine Stalnaker have my tablet," Hughes said. "I didn't know which tablet it was, but I was worried it was the tablet which contained information about my illegal drug activities...
"I told him to do whatever it took. I did not expressly say to use force, but we both understood it meant to use force as necessary... when he called me back, he told me that he shot them."
According to court records, Metz and Freeman allegedly took Friend and Stalnaker from their home on Fox Run Road and brought them to a different location along Jesse Run Road. There, they allegedly took the purse and killed the women, according to court records. The purse was later recovered in 2002 by a fisherman in Lewis County.
Charges were dropped in the cold case on Nov. 8, 2013, based on a legal technicality. Hughes was rearrested in December on a conspiracy charge. Metz is now facing two counts of first-degree murder.