MEDINA — The 911 caller said there was a struggle, but Medina County Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Telatko wasn’t prepared for what he saw inside.
Frank Munz, 73, was lying facedown in a pool of his own blood.
He wasn’t breathing and had no pulse.
Telatko’s graphic description of the scene of the killing came on Monday, the first day of testimony in the capital murder trial of Steven Cepec.
Cepec, 43, is on trial in Medina County Common Pleas Court, charged in the June 3, 2010, slaying of Munz, a Chatham Township historian.
In addition to aggravated murder, Cepec is charged with aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary.
If the jury finds him guilty, he could face the death penalty.
In opening statements Monday, county Prosecutor Dean Holman told the jury that Cepec had a long history of crime and violence.
“You’re about to hear testimony that shows Steve Cepec was a desperate man,” Holman said.
Just a week before Munz’s death, Cepec was placed on parole from the Lorain Correctional Institution, where he was serving a sentence for several counts of burglary and aggravated burglary in Medina and Lorain counties.
Sherry Clouser, an Ohio Adult Parole Authority supervisor, and parole Officer David Pummell testified that Cepec was sent to Akron’s Oriana House, a halfway house.
Amanda Cates, a supervisor at the halfway house, told the jury that Cepec signed papers acknowledging he understood the rules of the clinic, which included options for short-term, unsupervised release.
Cepec broke those rules that first day by not returning to Oriana House after keeping a hospital appointment.
Cates and another employee, Jason Gladin, said Cepec checked out of the hospital at 8:48 p.m. and never returned. A warrant for his arrest was issued June 1, 2010.
Holman told the jury in his opening statement that others will testify that Cepec met up with his girlfriend, Michelle Palmer, and that he stayed in her father’s barn, about a quarter-mile from Munz’s home, at 5394 Richman Road.
On June 1, 2010, Cepec borrowed money from Munz and used his phone, the prosecutor said.
Two days later, Cepec returned to the home, armed with a CO2 air pistol, duct tape and a hammer from the barn.
Holman said Cepec tied Munz up with the duct tape and beat him over the head several times with the claw-end of the hammer and tried to strangle him with an electrical cord ripped from a lamp.
With Munz unable to fight back, Cepec began to loot valuables from the bedrooms, the prosecutor said. He also changed his blood-soaked shirt and removed Munz’s shirt, Holman said.
Munz’s nephew, Paul Munz, was home at the time and locked himself in a bedroom, Holman said. When Paul Munz heard someone try to get into the room, he called 911 at 2:37 p.m. He named Cepec as the intruder to the dispatcher and said there was a struggle.
Several sheriff’s deputies and Seville police officers testified what happened next.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Stephen Herte, the first officer to arrive, told the jury he spent 10 minutes securing the area before other officers arrived.
As he approached the house, Herte said he saw Cepec enter the attached garage and move toward some shelves at 2:57 p.m.
Herte said he shouted, “Sheriff’s Office, show me your hands,” and met eyes with Cepec.
Cepec ran from the garage and into a wooded area, Herte and at least two other deputies said.
“There was lots of brush, so it didn’t take long before we lost sight of him,” Deputy David Pries told the jury.
The chase ended in a soybean field, where Pries said he found Cepec hidden in a large bush at 3:04 p.m.
Shortly after taking him into custody, deputies said they received a radio report that Munz had been found inside the home.
Without prompting, Cepec said he didn’t do it, officers testified.
But over the next several days, Cepec confessed at least five times to law enforcement officers.
Cepec’s attorneys, Russell Buzzelli and Kerry O’Brien, attempted to block Cepec’s confessions from the jury, but Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler denied their motion.
The defense mentioned these confessions during opening arguments.
“I’m going to ask you to listen to these confessions, these renditions,” Buzzelli told the jury. “They don’t match up with each other.”
He did not elaborate.
Buzzelli said there were many others who might have killed Munz, including his nephew, Cepec’s girlfriend and an unknown man and woman whose DNA were found at the scene.
He said Munz had a million-dollar estate in his name, so Munz’s live-in nephew would have motive.
He said Cepec’s girlfriend, Palmer, had a history of violence.
Finally, Buzzelli said the jury should question the accuracy of the times the prosecution said events occurred.
“Please keep your mind on the clock,” Buzzelli told the jury.
The trial is set to continue today at 8:30 a.m.
Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.