GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On Wednesday, Michael Pagel pleaded guilty to murder in the August 2006 stabbing death of his wife, Renee Pagel.
But while the husband has been the main suspect in the case from the beginning, the courtroom confession was still shocking because now the killer claims his own brother was the one who delivered the fatal knife thrusts that killed the mother of three.
It is coming up on 14 years since Renee Pagel, a beloved school teacher, was found dead of multiple stab wounds in the driveway of her home on 13 Mile Road north of Rockford.
This year, the main suspect, her husband, was finally arrested and charged with first-degree murder, which carries an automatic penalty of life without parole.
A plea deal was arranged with the Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, where 55-year-old Michael Pagel would plead guilty to second-degree murder and spend 25 years to life in prison.
“To get to somewhat move this past for the kids was the biggest reason to take a look at this plea deal and ultimately go forward with it,” Becker said.
But instead of taking responsibility for killing her, Pagel blamed his own brother.
“I hired my brother Charles to kill Renee Pagel. I planned the murder with my brother Charles Pagel. With my help and encouragement, Charles Pagel murdered Renee Pagel,” Michael Pagel said.
Pagel said he was at his mother’s house when Renee was killed, giving him an alibi that stuck for more than a decade.
Michael Pagel said he gave his brother a map and a detailed floor plan of the inside of the home and paid him by giving up his share of his mother’s inheritance to his brother. However, he does not have documentation to prove it.
News 8 talked to the brother who remains free and said he was shocked but was “not supposed to discuss anything.”
Becker said there is no evidence apart from what Michael Pagel is claiming at this point, but it is not being dismissed.
“We’re going to listen to him. He obviously implicated another individual, we’re very interested in that, but we also have to take that with a grain of salt,” Becker said.
This is the first time that people familiar with the case have heard Michael Pagel’s claim that he hired his brother to kill his wife.
“I wouldn’t say he wasn’t on the radar, we looked at everyone, there were people all around, the sheriff’s department tried to tie in just about anybody,” Becker said. “Mike Pagel was the prime suspect from the get-go, but we did not discount the fact that somebody else could have been involved and never have, quite frankly.”
News 8 talked to the brother-in-law of both the defended and the victim. He said the family, including the children of the victim and her killer, were shocked and surprised by what they heard, and they don’t believe it’s true.
But most of all, they feel they were robbed of what at least would’ve been some sort of closure.
“He could be telling the truth. That’s something we want to get to the bottom of and that’s why we’re going to listen to him and dig deeper if necessary,” Becker said.
Becker said this means this case remains open for as long as it takes to figure out what really happened for the sake of the family and the people of Michigan.
“She was a wonderful person, and when you have somebody like that die in such a horrible fashion, it catches the attention of a lot of people,” Becker said.
At this point, it’s unclear whether the June 29 sentencing will happen in a Kent County Circuit courtroom or online.