Washington County man says he was treated 'like an idiot' during 2015 murder trial

·2 min read

Dec. 4—A Washington County man serving a life prison sentence for the 2013 murder of his father-in-law in Donegal Township told a Westmoreland County judge his trial lawyer ignored his wishes when he failed to challenge a two-hour police confession and his desire to testify in his own defense.

Michael Martin, 48, testified Friday as part of his appeal that seeks to overturn his first-degree murder conviction and contends defense attorney Brian Aston unilaterally decided against seeking jurors from hearing a lengthy confession and presenting character evidence during the trial.

"He was treating me like an idiot," Martin testified.

During his trial in 2015 prosecutors contended Martin lured Earl Weygandt, 67, from his Donegal Township home to a car parked along a secluded section of Route 31 under the guise of needing help for a broken down vehicle. While there, police say, Martin stabbed Weygandt to death.

Prosecutors claimed Weygandt had recently stopped giving financial support to Martin and his wife, who lived in Fallowfield Township.

Aston argued at trial that Weygandt was killed after he threatened Martin with a gun.

That defense was based on statements Martin made during a two-hour recorded confession with police after the killing. Martin initially denied any involvement in the killing during the first half of the statement but eventually confessed to his role in Weygandt's death, prosecutors said.

Aston testified his strategy in defending Martin was to allow jurors to hear the confession in lieu of his client testifying at trial.

"I believed it was a way to get his story in without objecting him to cross examination," Aston testified Friday.

Aston also said it was not in Martin's best interest to present witnesses at trial who claimed he had a reputation for peacefulness and that Weygandt was known as a violent person. Aston testified that testimony was belied by prosecution witnesses who would have praised Weygandt's reputation for nonviolence and Martin's criminal past that included convictions for drunken driving, identity theft at burglary.

Martin initially filed his appeal seeking to overturn his conviction two years ago and served as his own lawyer during a hearing in late 2019. Martin has since hired Pittsburgh attorney Lyle Dresbold for his appeal.

Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Feliciani ordered lawyers to submit written legal arguments and said issue a ruling on the appeal next year.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, rcholodofsky@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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