SKOWHEGAN — Slaying victim Ricky Cole of Detroit had an imaginary friend who lived in a black box and told Cole whom to hurt, and sometimes whom to murder.

That was part of the opening statement by Caleb Gannon, one of the attorneys representing Jason Cote, 24, of Palmyra, who is charged with beating Cole to death in Cole’s Main Street mobile home in 2013. Cote has pleaded not guilty.

Gannon said Cote heard Cole having conversations with an imaginary friend he called Vern, and feared for his life because of it.

Cole had also bragged that he had killed two people in New Hampshire, was being investigated on weapons charges by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and had threatened Cote, defense attorneys said.

The defense team of Gannon and lead attorney Stephen Smith has said Cote acted in self-defense in Cole’s death.

In her opening statement to the jury Thursday in Somerset County Superior Court, Assistant Attorney General Leanne Zainea said Cote got his drugs from Cole. When Cote didn’t get all the drugs he needed on July 17, 2013, he killed Cole in a savage attack, Zainea said. Cole’s head was “stomped” by Cote and was bashed so many times with a pipe that blood was spattered everywhere, she said.

The notion of self-defense “just doesn’t work in this case,” she said.

“Evidence will establish that Ricky Cole is dead due to blunt force injury and that Jason Cote did it,” Zainea said. “It was depraved indifference to the value of human life.”

The first witness called to the stand Thursday was Brenda Brown, Cole’s ex-wife, who testified that she recalled Cole’s imaginary friend Vern. Cole would tell their children that if they misbehaved, he would let Vern know, Brown said.

When Smith asked about a tattoo Cole had on his neck, spelling out “RIP,” Brown testified that it wasn’t meant to be menacing, as Smith has suggested, but rather was a tribute to her father, whom Cole admired and wanted to memorialize.

Police say in an affidavit that after Cote snorted methadone and Xanax on July 17, 2013, at a friend’s home in Palmyra, he was dropped off at Cole’s residence, allegedly to get more drugs.

Cole was found bludgeoned to death about 3 a.m. July 18, 2013. He had a fractured skull, extensive blood loss and deep internal injuries, according to an autopsy by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Zainea, the prosecutor, also called Robert Dunehoo of Detroit to the stand Thursday. Dunehoo told the jury that early on the morning of July 18, 2013, his neighbors David Lefleur and Amy Tarr had come to his home in panic, wanting to use the phone to call police.

Cote had told Lefleur and Tarr that he had hit Cole with a pipe, Zainea said in her opening statement.

Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, the state’s chief medical examiner, testified that Cole died from blunt force trauma.

“There were many injuries to the scalp,” Flomenbaum told the jury. “The back of his head had many injuries.”

Zainea contended that some of Cole’s injuries came from Cote “stomping” him, causing broken facial bones. The skull was fractured from ear to ear, she said.

In his cross-examination of Flomenbaum, Smith had the doctor describe drugs found in Cole’s system. Smith noted that some were taken for depression and psychosis, and he suggested that Vern, Cole’s imaginary friend, could have been the result of psychosis. He said Cote acted in self-defense against a much larger and possibly psychotic Cole.

Closing the full first day of testimony Thursday, Zainea called Kelly Witham of Levant, at the time the girlfriend of the owner of the home where Cole was living. Witham said she, along with several others including Cote, bought prescription drugs from Cole. She said she was addicted to Ritalin at the time but is now clean and sober.

Witham testified that Cole was concerned that Cote had not agreed to “take the rap” for firearms found by investigators in Cole’s previous home after it burned, but said she never heard Cole threaten Cote.

Cote faces 25 years to life in prison if he is found guilty of murder.

The trial resumes Friday morning.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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