KINGMAN - County Public Defender Ronald Gilleo questioned the validity of a search warrant issued against his client, Mel Harris, at a status hearing on Tuesday. The argument, if proven to be legitimate, might lead to Mohave County Superior Court Judge Robert Moon not handling the case.
Gilleo told the court that he learned from interviews with officers from the Mohave County Sheriff's Office that they broke Harris' front door, entered the house, arrested Harris and searched the property without a proper court-issued search warrant. The search, conducted without any emergency circumstances involved, is illegal according to the law, Gilleo said. As a result, Gilleo suggested all the evidence obtained through the search should be suppressed as evidence against his client.
Gilleo said he has reason to believe that the search warrant was obtained from the court after the search was conducted, because the search warrant contained something that could only be identified after a search had been conducted on Harris' property.
For example, the search affidavit submitted to the judge mentioned a shovel and other tools that were believed to be used by Harris to bury victims' bodies. Those items, Gilleo said, could not be obtained without entering the property first.
Through his interviews with sheriff's detectives, Gilleo also suspected that Detective Steve Parker might have told Moon something beyond the description of the affidavit at the time of applying for a search warrant. The undocumented conversation might contain information obtained from the search on Harris' property.
Moon said he could not remember clearly what happened for this specific search warrant, but he used to write notes or let his secretary know if there was anything beyond the written affidavit presented to him.
Moon continued the hearing to Sept. 19 to offer Gilleo more time to conduct interviews with Parker and himself, if necessary. Moon said he would recuse himself from the case if the defense attorney feels it's necessary.
Gilleo said after the hearing that he would interview Parker again to determine whether there was illegally obtained evidence in hand prior to the conversation between Parker and Moon. He said he would probably make a decision on whether to ask for Moon to recuse himself before the next hearing.
Harris, 73, a resident of Desert Springs, faces four felony charges, including two for second-degree murder, one for kidnapping and one for sexual assault. If convicted of all charges, he could stay behind bars for at least 32 years.
Harris was accused of killing Desiree Ilene Towne, 40, and Edward Lyman Waterbury, 37, both Desert Springs' residents, and allegedly kidnapped and raped another woman in the same area in March.
Harris's bail is set at $125,000.