The defense of four suspects awaiting trial in the shooting death of a Clay County detective at a possible methamphetamine lab could hinge on what was seen, said and smelled in the minutes and hours surrounding the shooting.
Monday, defense attorneys spent the day questioning investigators who were at the Middleburg house two years ago this month when detective David White was killed. The motions covered issues from who among the suspects had a gun to whether they were connected to the drugs detectives found at the house.
Three of the suspects are awaiting trial on murder, attempted murder and methamphetamine trafficking charges. They are Ryan Christopher Wilder, 32, Chasity E. Prescott, 37, and Jennifer S. Alder, 40. Jerry Fred Daniels, a juvenile, was charged with third-degree murder in the case, and also is awaiting trial.
All four were in the courtroom Monday in Green Cove Springs, where prosecutor Steve Nelson went over the case with the investigators. He and the defense attorneys referred at times to photos of the scene, including one of the house and the green front door where White was standing when he was killed.
Detectives who went to the door that night said they wanted to talk to the people inside. They’d had the house under surveillance for a day, seen vehicles there related to other meth cases and documented purchases of pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used to manufacture illegal meth.
The owner of the house, who lived in Jacksonville at the time, had cleared the Sheriff’s Office to search the single family house that had been vacant two years.
After banging on the door, and engaging a verbal exchange with a woman and man inside, the door opened a crack, said narcotics detective Gary Lavaron II.
“As soon as the door opened I could smell a strong chemical smell coming from the house,” he said.
After sensing what they determined to be an active meth lab, they kicked in the door to get inside.
Lavaron said once the door was open, he saw a shirtless man run across the living room then heard gunfire.
“After the first shot, I heard the sound of bullets hitting around me,” Lavaron said.
White, who was shot in the head, died. Detective Matthew Hanlin was shot in the arm, the bullet entering near an elbow and exiting his upper arm. He survived.
White was shot by Ted Tilley, 36, a felon who swore he was not going back to prison, according to prosecutors. He was shot and killed as he ran out the back that night.
Monday, Lavaron was questioned about how he knew the lab was active, or if it could have been an old “cook” of the drug.
The opinions of detectives, and the collection of a crumpled plastic bottle that was destroyed aren’t sufficiently strong to prove that the lab was active, the attorneys argued in the documents.
Attorney John Leombruno, who is representing Prescott, said defense attorneys did not have the opportunity to examine the bottle because it was destroyed after it was photographed.
Questioned by defense attorney Ann Finnell, Capt. Barry Abramowitz, who was a lieutenant the night White was killed and was a supervisor at the scene, differed on what bottle he and another investigator saw bubbling when the two went inside the house that night. Finnell is representing Wilder.
Alder was merely a visitor at the house, attorney Theodore Zentner wrote in a motion.
In their suppression motions, the defense attorneys argue that their clients surrendered immediately and never had possession of a weapon, as the state has charged in some cases.
In the set of motions before Circuit Judge Don H. Lester, the attorneys also challenge the interrogations that night. The four were not immediately arrested but all were charged in the case two months later.
Another motion asks for a change of venue.
Lester did not rule on any of the requests Monday, and questioning is scheduled to resume Tuesday.
Dana Treen: (904) 359-4091