CLEVELAND – Joseph McAlpin claimed he is innocent during an opening statement he delivered to a jury as his murder trial began Tuesday.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for McAlpin, 31, who is accused of gunning down a couple inside the Cleveland car dealership they owned. McAlpin is representing himself during trial.
“I’m going to tell you, first and foremost, I’m not guilty of these charges,” McAlpin told the jury. “I did not shoot Mr. Kuznik, Mr. Micahel Kuznik, nor did I not shoot Ms. Trina Kuznik.”
Prosecutors said McAlpin broke into Mr. Cars on East 185th Street on Good Friday in April 2017 and shot Trina Tomola Kuznik and Michael Kuznik in the heads as they prepared to close for the day.
The couple’s 19-year-old son discovered their bodies after they did not come home. The family dog was also shot and killed.
“We’re going to ask you to find beyond a reasonable doubt that McAlpin committed all these horrific crimes, that McAlpin went in by himself and committed these heinous acts against the Kuznik family,” Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Russ Tye told the jury.
Prosecutors said McAlpin and two other men then stole a Mercedes and BMW from the dealership. Jerome Diggs, 24, and Andrew Keener, 25, were arrested and charged with aggravated murder. Keener pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter and grand theft.
Tye said police identified McAlpin as a suspect through DNA evidence found at the dealership and inside the BMW, and cell phone records and surveillance footage from neighboring businesses place him at the murder scene.
“Joseph McAlpin went into Mr. Cars and did the unimaginable,” Tye said.
McAlpin was indicted on 25 charges including aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and cruelty to animals.
In his opening statement, he admitted to past convictions, including a 2009 case for which he served nine years in prison for robbing a woman at knifepoint.
McAlpin admitted he did not go to law school and is not as qualified as his counsel, but he said he chose to represent himself to let jurors know “something’s going on.”
“It’s really hard and difficult for me to do this after hearing so much ‘he’s this ugly, he’s this malicious,'” McAlpin said. “But it’s a job to do and somebody got to do it. And if I’m standing here by myself like this, [there’s] some smoke somewhere, but we don’t see the fire.”
McAlpin tried to cast doubt on the evidence in the case, saying his DNA may have been at the dealership because he previously test-drove cars. He suggested he was set up by a co-defendant.
Witness testimony is expected to begin Wednesday.