Judges hears motion to suppress evidence in St. Croix shooting case

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ST. CROIX - District Judge Wilma Lewis listened to a full day of testimony and arguments Friday in support and opposition to a defense motion attempting to suppress key evidence in the federal court case against Elvin Wrensford and Craig Muller, charged in the 2012 shooting death of Gilbert Hendricks Jr.

Wrensford filed the motion in November, and it later was joined by his co-defendant. The motion asks the court to exclude all incriminating evidence collected in the matter.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alphonso Andrews submitted written opposition to the motion last month, which prompted the hearing Friday that went well into the night past 9 p.m.

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

After hearing all testimony and arguments in the case, Lewis is expected to issue a ruling at a later date.

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.

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.

Shortly after the men were arrested in June 2012, District Magistrate Judge George Cannon granted a detention motion filed by Andrews that said prosecutors did not believe that any release conditions could ensure the safety of the community or guarantee that the men would not flee the territory.

According to the suppression motion argued Friday by his attorney, Omodare Jupiter, Wrensford asked 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.

Jupiter argued that they believe that all physical evidence obtained by law enforcement was in violation of Wrensford's Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure.

According to court documents and testimony heard Friday, Wrensford was identified as one of two potential suspects shortly after the incident, and later that evening, he and Muller were seen by V.I. Police Officer Julio Mendez, who was searching for the truck used in the shooting.

Mendez testified that when he stopped and tried to find out where the men were coming from, they took of running in separate directions.

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 from the defendant. A firearm later was found in that area.

Cruz testified that Wrensford refused 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.

Jupiter said 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, because it was obtained unlawfully.

"Based on the discovery, it is clear that there was neither a warrant nor proof of voluntary consent and the DNA evidence must be suppressed," the motion states.

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.

"Far less proof than the preponderance of the evidence is required for such a stop," Andrews said.

Andrews argued that despite Wrensford's claims that statements were taken from him without his being fully advised of his Miranda rights, Detective Richard Matthew testified that Wrensford was advised of his Miranda warnings prior to his statement being taken.

According to the affidavit filed by Matthews, just after 8 p.m. May 10, 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.

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

Both men remain jailed.

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

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