Ohio man pleads guilty in teen's beating death

AMANDA LEE MYERS Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- An Ohio man pleaded guilty to murder Thursday in the beating death of a 16-year-old boy in exchange for the chance to be released from prison after 22 years.

Michael Geldrich, 36, pleaded guilty to murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery and tampering with evidence in Warren County court. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors dropped two other charges.

Under the deal, Geldrich must testify against his alleged accomplice, Michael Watson, 39. Watson's attorney, John Kaspar, did not return a call for comment.

Authorities say Geldrich and Watson fatally beat 16-year-old Dione Payne of Dayton in an attempt to steal drugs and money from him at Geldrich's home, about 15 miles southeast of Dayton. Payne was left at a Middletown hospital Dec. 1 and later died.

Geldrich will be sentenced after Watson's trial, set for Aug. 11, and faces 22 years to life in prison. His attorney, Martin Hubbell, said Geldrich was high on heroin at the time and never meant to kill Dione.

"This was a dangerous game that everyone was involved in," Hubbell said. "My client is a man who made a terrible mistake and didn't realize the consequences of it until after. When he sobered up from the drugs he was beyond remorseful."

Hubbell said pleading guilty was difficult for Geldrich, a father of five children between 3 and 17 years old.

"He knew he was culpable and responsible, he's been honest with detectives and he hasn't tried to run from his responsibility," Hubbell said. "But when you're looking at 22 years to life in prison, that's a sobering event and it was very difficult for him. This gives him a little bit of closure and the opportunity to get out one day, and that's all he could ask for."

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said part of the reason he reached an agreement with Geldrich is because he's been cooperative and honest with investigators from the beginning.

Fornshell said although Geldrich will be eligible for release in 2036 at the age of 58, he may never win his freedom.

Fornshell plans to ask for a harsher sentence for Watson if he is convicted, though he declined to be more specific.

"I think the defendants looked at him (Dione) as someone who was smaller, who was weaker, and who they had the ability to take advantage of, and they did that," Fornshell said. "Even if he was involved in something he shouldn't have been, at the end of the day, he's a 16-year-old kid."

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Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP

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