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Man pleads guilty in wife’s murder

By Judy Reed

James Michael Pagel, 55, pled guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder in the 2006 murder of his wife, Renee Beth Pagel. She was brutally murdered in August 2006, in her Courtland Township home, while recovering from donating a kidney to the father of one of her students.

Renee Pagel and her children. Photo from the Justice for Renee Pagel Facebook page.

It was almost 14 years that ago that the Kent County Sheriffs’ Office responded to 9050 13 Mile Road NE in Courtland Township on a report of a deceased person. On August 5, 2006 first responders located Renee Beth Pagel deceased with obvious trauma to her body. There were no signs of forced entry into the home and valuables in plain sight were left behind. The medical examiner’s office completed an autopsy and ruled the death a homicide.

Through the course of the investigation, detectives learned Renee Pagel was nearing the end of a contentious divorce with her estranged husband Michael Pagel.  Following Renee’s death, the initial investigation had run its course with no charges filed and was eventually classified as a cold case. The couple’s three children went to live with their father.

Michael James Pagel

The case was turned over to a cold case review team in Lansing in the fall of 2018. The review team made up of Michigan prosecutors looked at the case file for the purpose of providing feedback on possible investigative leads that might help the investigation. Recent interviews and investigations provided valuable evidence that resulted in the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office charging Michael Pagel, 55, with the murder of his estranged wife. With the assistance of the Michigan State Police, Michael Pagel was taken into custody in the Bay City area in February 2020 and transported back to Kent County to face charges related to the murder of his wife.

A dual statement from Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker and Kent County Sheriff Michelle Lajoye-Young gave some details on the plea. “It is gratifying to see him finally accept some responsibility for her murder for which he has been a suspect since the very beginning,” it reads. “The children of Michael and Renee were consulted before considering a plea offer, and we decided on this course of action based on their response and approval. A trial involving their father in the murder of their mother would be extraordinarily difficult for this family. The ability to hold him accountable for his actions and save the kids from the trauma of such a trial played a major role in this decision.  In this agreement Mr. Pagel pled guilty to one count of second-degree murder with an agreement of a 25-year minimum sentence.  The judge will have the ability to set the maximum sentence.”

According to Prosecutor Becker, Pagel said he hired his brother to kill his wife, and that he provided a map and floorplan to allow him to do it. But authorities don’t yet know if he’s telling the truth.

“We were aware of the possibility that Michael Pagel may implicate others in the actual murder when he gave a factual basis for his plea. At this time, it is important to note that we are not aware of any independent evidence that can corroborate the statements Mr. Pagel made today. However, we have a duty to investigate his claims and will do so.  If Mr. Pagel wants to provide his version of events to the investigative team, they will listen to him, and follow up if he has any evidence to support his claim. This office and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department are committed to holding any person involved in Renee’s murder responsible for their actions. The statement of a defendant alone, with nothing more to support his version of events, is not enough by itself to charge anyone, with any crime.  Without any supporting evidence, it is merely a statement of a man perhaps trying to save face in admitting his guilt in the murder of his wife and should be treated as such.

“This office, with the Sheriff’s Department, has been committed to finding the truth since the beginning of the investigation. This commitment has not changed with this plea.  We appreciate the hard work and dedication of the detectives and crime scene techs at the Sheriff’s Department, the prosecutors assigned to the case, the Michigan State Police crime lab for their help, and especially Renee’s family for their strength and understanding though this entire process.  The investigation will continue and we will do everything we can to prove or disprove what Mr. Pagel stated here today. We want nothing more than to provide the truth of what happened to Renee, for her family and the community.” 

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