KEARNS, Utah — The attorney for one of the people accused in the kidnapping and murder of a Kearns woman wants evidence suppressed because of a clerical error.
The wrong apartment
According to the Deseret News, police started surveilling the apartment of Orlando Tobar on Feb. 12, 2021, in connection with the kidnapping and murder of Conzuelo “Nicole” Solorio-Romero.
Tobar, also known as “Chaparro,” is one of two men accused of taking Romero from her home in Kearns. Police believe they took her to an apartment in West Valley, where she was killed. On Feb. 15, police executed a search warrant on Tobar’s apartment in Midvale, finding what they believe is the murder weapon.
The motion from Tobar’s defense team says the warrant specifies police were to search unit 16 of the English Manor Apartments. However, Tobar lived in unit 15, right next door. Defense attorneys say when police searched Tobar’s residence, they lacked proper authorization. As a result, they say all of the evidence found inside should be excluded from the case.
The motion states, “A warrant was not sought, or obtained, to search apartment No. 15, nor were any efforts made to update the warrant obtained for apartment No. 16 before or after entering apartment No. 15. Apartment No. 16 was never entered.”
Evidence in murder at issue
This might seem like a minor clerical error, but legal analysts say small mistakes have had major impacts on other investigations.
While unconnected to the case, attorney Greg Skordas says the judge will consider two key factors. First, he’ll need to determine if the mistake was significant, and in Skordas’ opinion, it isn’t. Second, did the officers know the information was bad before the warrant was executed?
“The judge will have to weigh whether or not the officers acted in good faith,” Skordas said.
According to Skordas, search warrants require extreme precision. Otherwise, if a judge throws one out, that means all of the evidence collected from that warrant does not count.
“Whenever we deal with search warrants for a dwelling, the 4th Amendment and its Utah counterpart, really require that the government be particular in describing the place to be searched and the items to be seized,” Skordas said.
Warrants face extra scrutiny
Former Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank says many people read warrants before police execute them.
“They were read not only by the officer writing them, the district attorney, the judge who signed them, the supervisor, the commander over the unit that was going to serve this and, usually, a deputy chief read them, as well.”
If the motion succeeds, that doesn’t mean the case is ruined. Prosecutors will have to rely on evidence seized at other places and on witness statements. However, if the motion is denied, Burbank believes a good defense team will be able to use the mistake to make the jury believe there is reasonable doubt.
“It could certainly play into a juror’s mind, without a doubt,” according to Burbank.
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