Judge suppresses key evidence in 2012 St. Croix murder case

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ST. CROIX - Chief District Judge Wilma Lewis has issued an order granting in part a motion seeking to suppress key evidence in the federal murder case against Elvin Wrensford and Craig Muller, charged in the 2012 shooting death of Gilbert Hendricks Jr. in La Grande Princesse.

Wrensford filed a motion in November asking the court to exclude all incriminating evidence collected in the matter.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alphonso Andrews submitted written opposition to the motion, which has since prompted two separate hearings - in January and June.

On Tuesday, Lewis handed down the order on the motions, ruling that the court will suppress the keys, wallet and insurance card found on Wrensford's person when he was detained by police but will not suppress the knife he also turned over to police, statements that he made, DNA swabs or witness identifications.

According to the affidavit filed by V.I. Police Detective Richard Matthews, just after 8 p.m. May 10, 2012, police responding to a call found Hendricks in a grassy area suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, including two shots to the head.

Witnesses told police that Hendricks was walking on the sidewalk when a red truck drove up and the passenger, who police believe to be Wrensford, began firing shots at him.

Witnesses said Hendricks began to run from the gunfire, but the occupants of the truck cut him off and fired additional shots, knocking him to the ground.

Police later saw Wrensford running in La Grande Princesse and detained him. Keys in his pocket were for an abandoned truck that matched the description of the one used in the shooting, according to police.

Muller was arrested days later after he left the territory and was intercepted by law enforcement in Puerto Rico.

According to court documents, Wrensford claims that the initial stop by Police Officer Julio Mendez was illegal because Mendez did not have reasonable suspicion. He also argues that Officer Leon Cruz had neither reasonable suspicion nor probable cause when Cruz stopped Wrensford a short time later.

In his response, Andrews said the stop-and-search was justified by reasonable suspicion. He said Cruz reasonably thought he was dealing with an armed and dangerous individual who may have been involved in a recent shooting incident.

The court found that neither stop violated Wrensford's Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure.

However, Lewis said that a police officer may perform a protective pat-down for weapons during a stop, but the scope of that search must be "carefully limited to the outer clothing of such persons in an attempt to discover weapons which might be used to assault" the officer.

"If the protective search goes beyond what is necessary to determine if the suspect is armed, it is no longer valid and its fruits will be suppressed," Lewis' order stated.

During the hearing on the motions to suppress the evidence, Andrews presented law enforcement officers who were involved in the preliminary investigation, Wrensford's detention and arrest.

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. They are being held without bail pending the outcome of a trial against them.

While a trial date has not yet been set, calendar call in the case has been scheduled for Sept. 15.

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

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