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Attorneys say arrest, evidence not by the book

July 26, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Between the time a Maugansville woman was shot outside her home on Feb. 8 and the time the man charged in her death, Ricky Rinaldo Stallings Jr., was arrested that morning in Chambersburg, Pa., police from both states kept each other posted on developments in the case.

Meanwhile, the Washington County Sheriff's Department listed Stallings as wanted, through what is called a temporary felony want, on a national police database, according to testimony during a suppression hearing Monday in Washington County Circuit Court.

Stallings, 23, whose address is listed on charging documents as 6088 Molly Pitcher Highway in Chambersburg, is charged with first-degree murder, among a series of related charges.

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The charges are in connection with 34-year-old Mary Elizabeth Williams' shooting death, which occurred Feb. 8 at about 8 a.m. on Alpine Drive.

Whether the temporary felony want, which is not considered a physical arrest warrant, and conversations about the case between investigators for the Washington County Sheriff's Department and Pennsylvania State Police in Chambersburg - fueled by information Stallings went to work that morning in Chambersburg - were enough to prompt his arrest are issues Circuit Judge John H. McDowell has yet to decide.

After more than three hours of testimony Monday during the second hearing held to determine what evidence will make it into Stallings' September trial, McDowell said he needs to review more case law submitted by attorneys before he decides what will be allowed at trial.

Stallings' trial is set to begin Sept. 19, according to court records.

Assistant Public Defenders Eric Reed and Brian Hutchison, Stallings' attorneys, are also seeking to keep out evidence related to a police search of Stallings' Chevrolet Blazer, saying the items police recovered - shell casings, a cell phone and a checkbook - were not listed on the search warrant as items they intended to retrieve.

Reed said Pennsylvania "appears to provide a greater deal of protection" to ensure against violations of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Washington County police "said Mr. Stallings was identified as a suspect," he said. "There were not specific facts (Pennsylvania police) could rely upon for an arrest."

In his closing argument, Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Robert Veil acknowledged that a temporary felony want is "not a judicially issued warrant," but said that among police agencies, it is sometimes referred to as a warrant.

The want was issued through a national police database, National Crime Information Center, commonly referred to as NCIC, which he said is a "highly safeguarded and trustworthy method of communication" among police.

Veil argued there was enough information about the details of the case - including the fact that a witness picked out Stallings' picture from a photo array - relayed to state police in Chambersburg from county police to justify Stallings' arrest, despite the absence of an official warrant.

The witness, Christopher Hobart, was in the same vehicle with Williams when she was shot. Hobart had picked up Williams for work when the parked car in which they were sitting was approached by Stallings, who shot her through the car, charging documents allege. Hobart sped off and drove Williams to county police headquarters for help, but she was later pronounced dead at Washington County Hospital, records state.

Veil said Hobart also gave county police a description of Stallings' vehicle, a Chevrolet Blazer.

"All of these things and a number of others combine to get enough probable cause, not just in Washington County, but in Franklin County, Pa., to place him under arrest," Veil said.

Reed, in his closing argument, argued that the description of the Blazer in the search warrant did not match the Blazer police searched.

Veil said an arrest can be made without a warrant if police have enough probable cause.

Stallings was arrested at Chambersburg Pipe & Steel at about 11:15 a.m. Feb. 8, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Brad Ford testified.

Ford said Stallings was charged following his arrest with "arrest prior to requisition," which is a charge he said holds the suspect and indicates he is wanted through another police agency.

"In my opinion there was an arrest warrant for him through NCIC," he testified.

Washington County Sheriff's Department dispatch supervisor Kathy Repp testified that a temporary felony want stands for 48 hours and is typically issued "when an agency needs to take prompt action that this person is wanted," an option she said is useful for agencies in a place such as Washington County, which borders two states.

Repp, who testified that she has been trained extensively on NCIC, was instructed by investigators to issue the temporary felony want after Hobart picked Stallings' picture out of the array, she testified. She said a temporary felony want can be entered before a court warrant is issued.

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