A Madison circuit judge has ruled that state troopers did not violate a murder suspect’s rights when they entered his Richmond home prior to obtaining a search warrant.
Judge William G. Clouse also ruled the KSP did not intentionally mislead or provide false information in the affidavit used to obtain a search warrant and gather evidence from Jason Singleton’s Forest Hill Drive home.
Singleton, 36, and Christina Marcum, 29, are charged with murder in the death of 24-year-old Angela Frazier-Singleton, Jason’s wife. Frazier-Singleton’s dismembered body was found Jan. 19, 2011, in trash bags at the end of Tattler Branch Road in the Valley View community.
Singleton’s attorney, Jim Baechtold, made the arguments at the Friday morning hearing in an attempt to keep evidence collected inside Singleton’s home from being allowed at trial.
Singleton and Marcum are set for trial 9 a.m. March 11.
Securing the house
At Friday’s hearing, which lasted all morning, three Kentucky State Police trooper were called to testify.
The first, Detective Edwin Botkin, testified about how he and two other troopers secured Singleton’s house prior to obtaining a search warrant Jan. 20, 2011.
Botkin said he was instructed to park his unmarked vehicle outside Singleton’s home and observe the residence while another trooper prepared a search warrant affidavit. An affidavit is a written document that outlines the reasons why, based on information gathered during an investigation, officers believe a crime has taken place, and a private area needs to be searched for evidence. The affidavit is presented to a judge, who then decides whether there is probable cause to approve a search warrant.
Frazier-Singleton’s body had been discovered the day before, and Botkin had been investigating her disappearance. She was reported missing Jan. 17 by her mother, and on that same day, Frazier-Singleton’s empty car was discovered on Interstate 75.
Botkin said he noticed the garage door and the interior door leading into the house from the garage of Singleton’s home was open. He also said he could smell smoke in the air, indicating something had recently been burned.
Two other KSP troopers then arrived, Detective Chris Short and Trooper Don Foley, and the three men were ordered by Lt. Blake Slone to enter the house and secure it, Botkin said.
Botkin said the troopers entered to ensure there were no suspects or victims inside and that evidence wasn’t being destroyed.
The troopers were in the house for nine minutes, opening doors and closets, anywhere that a person could be, both Botkin and Short testified. No evidence was seized at the time.
“We were told to secure the house,” Short said. “I didn’t see any problem with that, so we did.”
When Short took the stand, he said once inside the interior garage door, he saw a knife on the floor. At the top of the stairs, he said it appeared carpet had been pulled up and a hole cut in the subfloor. A handheld circular saw was near the hole, he added.
Short also said there was soot throughout the house, and it appeared something had been recently burnt in the two fireplaces.
Questioning the affidavit
Detective Dusty Hon was hurriedly writing the affidavit for a search warrant to collect evidence from Singleton’s home at the same time the three other troopers were securing the house. He used information from the men’s observations to establish probable cause that a crime had been committed and the home needed to be searched.
Baechtold questioned Hon about the the document’s wording, in particular a paragraph that stated the knife could be seen “from the open garage.” The attorney said the wording did not make clear that the troopers had made the observation from inside the garage, not outside it.
The affidavit also stated Short had seen the carpet ripped up and a hole in floor in the upstairs portion of the house.
Baechtold also asked Hon why he did not clearly state in the affidavit that law enforcement officers had already been inside the home. Hon responded he had used the phrase “secure the scene.”
“I don’t see how we can secure a house without going in,” Hon said.
“Could I have worded that more clearly? Probably,” Hon also said, but he denied the allegation that he had lied or intentionally misled District Judge Brandy O. Brown when he presented the affidavit to her and obtained the search warrant.
Prior to a lunch break, Clouse accompanied a bank representative to Singleton’s foreclosed home on Forest Hill Drive in the Deacon Hills subdivision at the request of the defense so he could see the layout of the house.
After lunch, Clouse gave his rulings on the two issues raised about the searches.
Law enforcement officers are allowed to enter a building without a search warrant if they believe there’s a strong likelihood someone is in danger or that evidence is being destroyed.
Clouse said it was clear in this case that these exigent circumstances existed on Jan. 20, 2011.
“... They acted to protect life, protect evidence and protect property,” Clouse said.
There also was a “reasonable likelihood” of an emergency based on Botkin’s observations of the open garage door, interior door and the smell of smoke.
“The defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated in this case,” Clouse ruled.
The second issue, whether Sgt. Hon misled or lied to Judge Brown in the search warrant affidavit about whether officers had already been in the home, was also addressed.
“The court could strike that entire paragraph (about seeing the knife from the open garage), and still find more than enough probable cause for Judge Brown to sign that search warrant,” Clouse said.
Although there was some room for “dual meaning” in the wording of that paragraph, Clouse noted law enforcement officers are under pressure to quickly prepare affidavits for search warrants in fast-moving cases, such as this one. He added that he believed the troopers had testified truthfully.
“The court finds there was no intentional misleading or effort to lie to Judge Brown,” Clouse said.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6694.