Defense says investigators didn't get warrant
Authorities have located the sawed-off shotgun they believe was used to kill Nikolai Skaarland at a West Side Missoula trailer in November 1999, but defense attorney Brian Smith maintains the weapon should not be admitted as evidence in the murder trial of Barry Williams.
Police say 21-year-old Skaarland died after a brief argument at a Cooley Street mobile home Nov. 16.
Williams told police he had the shotgun out during the argument with Skaarland but claimed he didn't remember firing the fatal shot.
He's also charged, along with others in the trailer that night, with moving Skaarland's body to a bathtub and cleaning up the scene.
On March 10, following an anonymous Crimestoppers tip, police went to the Lolo Creek property where Williams was staying at the time of the murder and located the alleged murder weapon hidden in a heap of garbage inside a chimney pipe, according to court documents.
The owner of the property, who consented to the search, told police the area was adjacent to where Williams had been allowed to park his trailer. Police earlier towed the trailer for evidence.
In Smith's motion to suppress the shotgun as evidence, he argued that detectives failed to seek a warrant to search for the weapon, instead obtaining only permission from the owner of the property.
Smith cited cases providing that such a warrantless search violates Williams' reasonable expectations of privacy.
"The problem in this case is that they received permission from the landlord, not Mr. Williams, to search Mr. Williams' property," he wrote in a three-page motion. "Up to this point the state had requested and received search warrants for Mr. Williams' truck, trailer and a backpack. This situation should have been no different."
Missoula Deputy County Attorney Scott Stearns wrote in his April 4 reply that the shotgun was located on property abandoned by Williams when he was arrested while trying to leave town Nov. 19.
"Upon Williams abandonment of the property," wrote Stearns, "the property owner and landlord had authority to consent to the search of the property" and thus the lawful seizure of the evidence.
In an interview Thursday, Stearns said he agreed to the suppression hearing and was confident with its outcome.
"Given the current Supreme Court (tenor), to not have the hearing would be more dangerous than actually going to the hearing," he said. "It's going to give us an opportunity to call three more witnesses and get their testimony on the record to be used later at trial. That's so advantageous to us."
The suppression hearing will take place in District Court before Judge Ed McLean on April 27.