Two Arrested in Beating of Retiree with Dumbbell and Setting House on Fire

A second suspect has been charged in the beating death of a Sterling Heights retiree, whose body was found in his house following a fire.

Demonte Marcellus Easterling, 19, of Harper Woods, allegedly took part with his step-sister in the fatal beating of Michael Freeland, 57, inside of Freeland’s home.



“We also recovered a dumbbell on I-75 that we believe was the weapon used in the homicide,” Sterling Heights police Lt. Dave Smith said.

Easterling was arraigned Thursday in 41A District Court on charges of first-degree homicide, felony murder, and armed robbery. Judge Stephen Sierawski ordered the suspect to be held without bond in the Macomb County Jail.

Earlier this week, Bria Corrine-Janelle Blackmon was arraigned on similar charges. The 20-year-old Madison Heights woman met the victim online on a posting and the two developed a personal relationship, according to investigators.

Police say Blackmon and Easterling used the dumbbell to beat the victim to death, then used his credit cards to finance a shopping spree.

Easterling, who has a prior weapons offense, was arrested Tuesday night, several hours after his half-sister was charged in court.

The victim’s body was discovered March 27 after firefighters were called to his house on the 37000 block of Andrew Drive in the area of 16 Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue after neighbors saw heavy smoke coming from the single-family home.

Noting the lack of working smoke detectors, investigators initially thought it was an accidental incident and Freeland had died from smoke inhalation.

However, as the investigation continued, officials found evidence at the scene and the autopsy results showed it was not a natural death. That’s when authorities ramped up their efforts and began focusing on possible suspects.

It was the first homicide in Sterling Heights in at least two years, according to police.

Smith said the investigation may be close to wrapping up, but added: “I can’t rule out additional suspects being charged at this point.”

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