Murder charge moving ahead in Jefferson County

STEUBENVILLE – Even though he claimed it was an accident, the murder charge against Michael Mitchell, 38, of Irondale in the Aug. 8 shooting of his girlfriend, Maria Cantwell, 38, was ordered bound over to the county grand jury during a preliminary hearing Thursday.

Toronto county court Judge Joseph Corabi said he found probable cause based on testimony of two witnesses during the hearing to bind the case over.

Cantwell’s body was found in the couple’s home at 998 county Road 50, Irondale.

Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said he was called to the home by Saline Township Police Chief Cliff Utt about a dead body.

Abdalla said he discovered a hole on the right temple of Cantwell’s body and thought it was from a .22-caliber bullet. The sheriff said an X-ray at the hospital showed metal shrapnel.

Abdalla said he interviewed Cantwell’s daughter, one of three children in the home at the time of the shooting, who told the sheriff she was sleeping with her mother because Cantwell had not been feeling well for a couple days.

The daughter said she heard her mother making gurgling sounds and throwing up in the early morning hours of Aug. 8. Abdalla said the daughter wanted to call 911 or take her mother to the hospital, but Mitchell said it wasn’t necessary and they could take her to the hospital later in the day if she wasn’t feeling better.

Abdalla said it was dark and the daughter couldn’t see her mother had been shot in the head.

Mitchell then told Cantwell’s children he was leaving for about 30 minutes around 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 8 and would be back, Abdalla said of the investigation. The sheriff said the daughter then went upstairs and discovered her mother and went to a home of a neighbor, who called 911.

Abdalla said Mitchell immediately became a suspect.

Mitchell’s truck broke down leaving the Irondale house at the intersection of state Routes 213 and 7. A tow truck was called and towed the truck to a house in Beloit, where Mitchell’s uncles lived, Abdalla said.

The sheriff said the tow truck driver noticed a .22-caliber handgun with a silencer on the seat and locked the truck during the tow to Beloit.

The tow truck driver’s wife noticed a Facebook posting that Mitchell was a suspect in the shooting and called the Saline Township Police Department, which then called the sheriff’s department.

Mitchell was arrested by the U.S. Marshal’s Service and Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy at the Beloit house. Mitchell waived extradition back to Jefferson County and allowed his truck to be searched.

During a four-hour interview at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Abdalla said Mitchell claimed he was twirling the gun and it went off. Abdalla asked Mitchell why he didn’t call for help. The sheriff said Mitchell responded by saying he was scared.

The sheriff said Mitchell gave several conflicting stories about where the .22-caliber handgun was located, which has not been found.

Upon questioning by defense attorney David Vukelic, Abdalla said Mitchell has no prior criminal record and Mitchell said the couple had a good relationship.

Abdalla said Mitchell was calm during the interview but broke down when he said the daughter was in bed with her mother when the shooting happened.

County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin said Mitchell remained in the house for more than seven hours after the shooting.

Abdalla said Mitchell, who had numerous weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his truck, claimed he was a weapons instructor. The sheriff said he couldn’t believe a man with weapons training would be twirling a loaded handgun at 3 a.m. in the morning.

County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Vinci said he participated in the arrest of Mitchell. When authorities arrived at the house, one of Mitchell’s uncles said he figured someone would be coming for Mitchell. When Mitchell was arrested and asked if knew of the murder warrant, Mitchell said, “I think I might know something about it,” according to Vinci.

Vinci said he asked Mitchell what happened. Mitchell responded by saying he was “messing” with his gun and it went off. “I think it hit her in the head,” Mitchell said according to Vinci.

Vinci said in addition to the numerous weapons and ammunition, smoke grenades and a bottle of chloroform were found in Mitchell’s truck.

Vinci said there was a large pond located near the house in Beloit and Mitchell’s uncles said Mitchell had walked toward the pond after he arrived.

Hanlin said who shot Cantwell is not an issue.

Hanlin said Cantwell was alive in bed after the shooting and Mitchell denied efforts for someone to call for help. Hanlin said Mitchell abandoned the children when he left to go to Beloit.

“That is not an accident. That is murder,” Hanlin said.

Corabi continued Mitchell’s bond at $1 million.

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