Defense, prosecution spar on legality of defendant’s cell phone, Facebook exchanges

Published: Aug. 12, 2020 at 5:13 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Defense and prosecution attorneys are arguing whether Facebook messages and phone records sent back and forth between a man charged with murder and other people should be suppressed.

Larry D. Huggins III, 19, is charged with felony first-degree murder of Owen Hughes, attempted aggravated robbery of three juveniles, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary.

Huggins hasn't been charged in connection with the shooting death of one of three gunmen, Reginald McKinney, 21.

"Any and all evidence obtained from the unlawful search of (Huggins') cell phone (should) be suppressed," defense attorney Gary Conwell wrote in a motion to quash evidence in Huggins' case.

In response, Deputy District Attorney Roger Luedke is asking the judge to deny the defense motion to suppress statements.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits general search warrants and requires that a warrant describes with particularity the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

"The state of Kansas sought and obtained a broad warrant to search nearly the entirety of the following, one LG cell phone used by the defendant," the defense motion to suppress evidence said.

Fruits of the warrant in the Huggins case should be suppressed because the warrant lacked probable cause and wasn't "sufficiently particular in what was to be searched, how it was to be searched and over what time periods," the defense motion said.

"Instead, the warrant allowed the state to rummage through Mr. Huggins' entire electronic history sifting for evidence," which the Fourth Amendment protects, Conwell wrote.

Facebook also was ordered to hand over information linked to the account associated with Huggins and others, the defense suppression motion said.

"After reviewing the contents of these searches, there is very little that the state does not know about Mr. Huggins' life," the suppression motion said. "This was not the reason for the search. It was not the search that was authorized. The fruits should be suppressed."

The remedy for an overbroad search warrant is the suppression of the seized evidence, Conwell wrote in the defense motion.

"Suppression of all evidence is not the appropriate remedy in this case," Luedke wrote.

"Here the officers who obtained the warrant and conducted the searches had probable cause to believe that the defendant was communicating about the crime on his cell phone and through Facebook," Luedke wrote.

Officers "rightly" sought a search warrant and "discovered highly incriminating text messages along with relevant calls," Luedke wrote.

The evidence was "directly responsive" to the probable cause "articulated in the warrant," Luedke wrote.

Luedke contends any evidence obtained through "overbreadth" or wasn't related to the probable cause isn't relevant "and its admission is not sought by the state.

“This was not a general exploratory rummaging through the defendant’s personal belongings to find incriminating evidence. Nor was it a case where the officers obtained a warrant based on one thing and then went looking for something totally different,” Luedke wrote.

Evidence searched for by officers was based "on the specific facts used to establish probable cause," Luedke wrote.

Huggins next appears in court on September 1 during a motion hearing.

The shootout occurred when three men attempted to rob three youths of marijuana, cash and two firearms, including an AK-47 assault rifle, according to evidence from a Topeka police witnesses.

The shootings were reported to 911 just after 3 p.m. on November 12, 2019.

When Topeka police officers arrived, two men called to the police to direct them to a man lying in the grass next door at 2405 S.E. Maryland. One of the men wearing a black hoodie was still breathing, but there was a large pool of blood coming from his left side, police said.

The bleeding man, McKinney, was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:14 p.m.

The wounded Hughes was found lying near the front door.

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