A prosecution witness testified Thursday that Scott Speer admitted pushing his friend off a boat into Lake Erie in 2002.
William Seese, 45, of Akron recounted the conversation in Ottawa County Common Pleas Court, where Speer, 43, of Fairlawn is on trial for the death of James Barnett, 40, of Barberton.
According to Seese, he and Speer were drunk while at Seese's house in the summer or early fall of 2003. They were ready to share some crack cocaine when Speer confessed.
"He said they (Speer and Barnett) were drunk, and he pushed him off the boat," Seese said.
Defense attorneys challenged Seese on his prior criminal record, the effect drug use might have had on his memory and what they insinuated were lies to police and private investigators.
Speer and Seese had known each other through only occasional drug binges, Seese said.
After Speer's alleged confession in 2003, Seese said he did not believe what Speer told him because he had not heard about the 2002 drowning of Barnett.
"At that point, I didn't want to get involved," Seese said. "I didn't think anything would come of it."
He did not tell authorities until Ottawa County investigators working the case found Seese in a drug rehabilitation program in 2004 and questioned him about the drowning.
Speer's attorney, Russell Buzzelli, asked Seese about his drug use and what toll crack, cocaine, methadone and other opiates have done to his memory over the years.
"Everybody's different. It doesn't do it to me," Seese said. "I don't forget something that someone told me like that (drowning)."
Buzzelli asked Seese about his drug use that night, since he has had several drug relapses in the past three years.
Seese admitted he was not sober when Speer confessed to the crime, but after a redirect from Ottawa County Assistant Prosecutor Lorrain Croy, he said he "clearly remembers" the 2003 conversation.
The prosecution also called a witness who said Speer and Barnett argued a couple of days before Barnett died.
Kenneth Henning, a Dayton-area resident, said he was at Bass Haven Harbor at Put-in-Bay when a pair of arguments erupted between the two friends in the days before Aug. 6, 2002, when Barnett drowned.
Barnett was working on Speer's boat when Henning approached him and offered him a beer, Henning said. Speer, who was within earshot, told Barnett he could not drink because he was working for Speer.
"That flared Jim up," Henning said. "Jim then demanded that Scott pay him the $10,000 that he wanted. He said he wasn't leaving Lake Erie until he got that money."
Henning then recalled that the two had another argument one day prior to the drowning.
Barnett was on Speer's boat with a bunch of friends when Speer approached him angrily, Henning said.
"It doesn't seem like an argument," defense attorney Roger Davidson said.
"That was an argument, believe me," Henning said.
Henning said before those two arguments he had never seen the two argue and said they seemed like "best friends."
Speer faces felony charges of aggravated murder, murder, aggravated vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaughter charges. His trial is expected to continue today.