CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - On Tuesday afternoon, jurors in Cleveland began hearing opening statements in the trial of Joseph McAlpin.
He is accused of the April 2017 murders of Trina Tomola and Michael Kuznik at the car dealership they owned, Mr. Cars.
According to prosecutors, McAlpin was the mastermind and the gunman in the crimes, but depended on his brother, Jerome Diggs, and a friend, Andrew Keener, to help him carry out the plan.
Keener pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in April. Diggs is awaiting a hearing later this month.
Prosecutors said McAlpin entered the couple’s car lot shortly before they closed shop around 5 p.m. on Good Friday, first shooting Michael Kuznik, then Trina Tomola.
They say they found his DNA on a modem near Tomola’s body and on the back pockets of Kuznik’s pants, where he usually kept the cash he received from car sales. Prosecutors told the jury they also discovered surveillance and cell phone video tying McAlpin to the murders, along with evidence from his phone, showing he was at the dealership during the time of the murders.
Tomola and Kuznik’s son found their bodies when he arrived to check on them after they failed to return home, said prosecutors. “What he discovered, what he thought at the time, was that was his mother, laying there behind the desk in the showroom. The unthinkable.”
McAlpin is acting as his own attorney in this case. He told jurors he did not murder the couple.
“I know how hard it’s gonna be, saying after everything has been said about me. Saying that I, the defendant, did this and did that. I’m gonna tell you first and foremost, I’m not guilty of these charges," said McAlpin.
McAlpin told jurors that the DNA at the scene was not from his being at the scene during the murders, but long before, when he and his wife had test driven cars there. He told them the surveillance video was shot from too far away to clearly identify him.
McAlpin, who served several years in prison for armed robbery shortly before the murders, told the jury that investigators had charged him based on Keener's statements, implying Keener had pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty.
If McAlpin is convicted, he could be sentenced to death.
Testimony will pick back up on Wednesday morning at the Justice Center.