Judge denies motion to suppress evidence in St. Croix murder case

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ST. CROIX - District Judge Wilma Lewis has denied a motion attempting to suppress identification evidence in the federal court case of Elvin Wrensford and Craig Muller, who are charged in the 2012 shooting death of Gilbert Hendricks Jr.

A hearing on the motion which asked the court to exclude all incriminating evidence collected in the matter took place in January, and last week Lewis issued a ruling on the motion that was accompanied by a memorandum specifically denying Muller's motion that his identification be suppressed because the photographs were suggestive and prejudicial.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to federal charges of possession of a firearm in a school zone; possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number; using a firearm during a violent crime; and first-degree murder in the shooting death.

In her memorandum opinion, Lewis said the court finds that Muller's challenge fails at step one of the analysis, because the witness identification of Muller in the photo array did not result from an unnecessarily suggestive procedure employed by the police.

The court examined the photo array shown to the witness to determine whether the identification process was unduly or unnecessarily suggestive and concluded that it was not, she wrote in the 11-page opinion.

Lewis said the fact that the witness happened to observe Wrensford outside the police station does not make the identification of Muller from a photo array three days later unduly suggestive.

In essence, she said Muller asked the court to speculate that, based on the witness statement that Wrensford and Muller are friends, and that the witness always sees them together, that the witness picked Muller because of his association with Wrensford.

"Noticeably absent from Muller's speculative theory, however, is any evidence of 'improper police influence,' 'police-arranged suggestive circumstances,' 'improper law enforcement activity,' 'manipulation or intentional orchestration by the police,' or other police-initiated impropriety that is crucial to a legitimate due process challenge," Lewis' opinion read.

Lewis said Muller failed to carry his burden of proving that the witness' out-of-court identification was the product of unduly suggestive procedures, and she denied his motion to suppress the identification evidence.

Hendricks was gunned down in a drive-by shooting just after 8 p.m. May 10, 2012, near Gold Coast Cabinets and Food Town Supermarket on Northside Road in La Grande Princesse.

Muller's co-defendant has also filed a motion to suppress that has not yet been ruled on.

Wrensford asked the court to suppress all evidence seized from his person, including an insurance card and keys. He also asked the court to suppress a statement law enforcement officials said he made after being detained, as well as the DNA swab taken from him after his arrest, but an order and opinion has not yet been made on that motion.

According to the motion, Wrensford believes that all physical evidence obtained by law enforcement violates his Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure.

According to court documents and testimony, Wrensford was identified as one of two potential suspects shortly after the incident.

Wrensford later was stopped by Detective Leon Cruz in the area of Estate St. John. Cruz said he recovered a knife, insurance card, wallet and keys that fit the suspect truck described by witnesses. A firearm later was found in that area.

Cruz testified that Wrensford refused to sign the waiver form to talk to police without an attorney, but he agreed to give police a statement verbally.

Wrensford's attorney contends that Wrensford's refusal to sign the form was his refusal to give a statement, and that a statement should not have been taken, and that DNA samples obtained through a saliva swab should have never been taken and should be suppressed. Although the DNA samples ultimately matched DNA taken from one of the firearms police said was used in the crime, Wrensford's motion argues that the DNA sample was obtained unlawfully.

Prosecutors argued that the stop-and-search was justified by reasonable suspicion and police had reasonably thought they were dealing with an armed and dangerous individual who may have been involved in a recent shooting incident.

Both men remain detained without bail.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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