Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Riley County, KS: Attorney For Accused Double Murderer Tries To Suppress Evidence

RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- The attorney for a man accused of murdering his girlfriend and baby in Riley County says the proper procedure wasn’t followed when police seized his car to search for evidence.

Luis Aguirre, 24, could face the death penalty if convicted of the 2009 murder of 18-year-old Tonya Maldonado and the couple’s 15-month-old son Juan. He's pleaded not guilty to capital murder.

Police say Aguirre killed the mother and son around Sept. 19, 2009, then buried them in a shallow grave near Ogden. A hunter discovered their bodies more than a month later on Oct. 25th.

Aguirre moved to Ogden within a year of the killings. His girlfriend and son were from the Chicago area.

Riley County authorities arrested him in Austin, Texas on Oct. 30th. Prosecutors indicated that the murders took place in Ogden and during the lapse between the deaths of Tonya and Juan and when their bodies were discovered, Aguirre had relocated to Texas where he was living with his new girlfriend and her parents.

In a previous hearing, Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson shed light on what the state believes was the motive for the murder, saying that for Aguirre, Tonya and their son had become an “albatross.” Tonya delivered Juan in 2008 and Aguirre had moved to Ogden. She was desperate for money, living with her baby in a homeless shelter and needed money. She wanted a family and wanted Aguirre to support them. In late September 2009, prosecutors say Aguirre picked up his son and girlfriend from the homeless shelter and brought them to Ogden to the house where he was living with his new girlfriend and a short time later, they both ended up dead.

Authorities have never released how the mother and her baby were killed and Wilkerson only briefing touched on what the state believes happened, saying Aguirre claims it was all a “misfortunate accident during a struggle over tightening blankets too tightly” But while Aguirre says he did not intend to kill them, Wilkerson says the state thinks their murders were premeditated. Wilkerson says Aguirre could not break free from his girlfriend and move on with his life, like joining the Army full time and the prospect of having to support them was hanging over him.

A motions hearing was held in Riley County District Court Wednesday morning- one of a number of hearings leading up to Aguirre’s capital murder trial which is set to start in June.

The focus of Wednesday’s hearing was a motion to suppress evidence found in Aguirre’s Jeep Grand Cherokee and in the trailer he was living in with his new girlfriend, her child and her parents in Texas.

Assistant Riley County Attorney Barry Disney says officers had a warrant that authorized them to search for 12 items listed in an affidavit. He says the warrant allowed detectives to seize the Jeep and take it to their police station to search it, which meant taking it from Texas to Riley County, Kansas, where Disney says the officers applied for a separate Kansas warrant to search the car. He says there’s nothing to indicate that they couldn’t take the car across state lines and that the investigators had probable cause to search Aguirre’s vehicle, meaning that they did not have to ask permission to remove it from Texas. Disney told Riley County District Court Judge Meryl Wilson that there is no reason to suppress the items found in the house or car which would exclude them from being used as evidence in Aguirre’s trial because the warrants were not faulty and had the proper language.

Aguirre’s attorney, Jeffrey Wicks says the officers were given permission to search the Jeep and take the items listed on the affidavit back to Kansas but instead, they took the whole car. He told the judge that the detectives went “beyond the scope of the warrant” and that the seizure was “procedurally done wrong.” He told the judge that officers don’t get to pick and choose what they seize. He went on to say that the warrant did not specifically include the items named in the affidavit that police could take, which included baby clothes, trace evidence and DNA. He says the warrant didn’t tell officers what to seize and that there’s no evidence presented that officers were able to go back to the affidavit when they executed the warrant. Wicks told the judge the question is: “What did you have permission to take and did you do it appropriately?”

Judge Wilson told both the prosecution and defense that the warrant, signed by a Texas judge, said that officers could search the Jeep for specific items and take them out of the county but that’s not what they did- they took the whole Jeep which the document did not authorize. Wilson did not rule on the motion to suppress the evidence Wednesday, saying he needed to think about it more and review other cases pertaining to the topic. He took the matter under advisement and said he would make a ruling in a timely manner.

Luis Aguirre's trial is set to begin on June 5, 2012 with jury selection. Two hundred potential jurors are expected to be questioned and that pool will be narrowed down to 48 qualified people. From the group of 48, the jury will be selected. Opening statements and testimony are expected to get underway June 18.

Aguirre is being held in the Riley County Jail on $2.5 million bond.

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