The Hot Springs police chief is looking into whether evidence was lost in any ongoing investigations after attorneys in the hot-car death of a circuit judge's son said materials pertinent to the case are missing.
Defense attorney Erin Cassinelli of Lassiter & Cassinelli said Tuesday that she had not received information requested on the negligent-homicide case against Garland County Circuit Judge Wade Naramore because the Hot Springs Police Department has "apparently lost evidence."
Deputy prosecutor Thomas Young said Tuesday that police were "unable to retrieve" photos in the case because of a computer server glitch.
The case is set for trial June 14-17. Special Circuit Judge John Langston has yet to rule on a prosecution motion submitted Tuesday to delay the trial.
Naramore pleaded innocent at a March 11 arraignment in the death of his 17-month-old son, Thomas. The boy died July 24 after being left in the back seat of a hot car.
When contacted Wednesday, Police Chief Jason Stachey said he was barred from speaking specifically about the Naramore case, but he said he was told by the department's computer technicians that there have not been any server changes or repairs recently.
"We have not had any instances involving cases where we have lost anything," Stachey said. "Everything that we have put on there, we've been able to pull back out. We've not had any problems in the past."
Stachey said that if he determines evidence was indeed lost in any case, not just Naramore's, he would order an immediate internal affairs investigation.
"I want to look into it," he said. "I take it very seriously."
Special prosecutor Scott Ellington of Jonesboro said two Hot Springs Police Department detectives told him that "something was lost off the server."
"That's what we understand," Ellington said Wednesday. "I don't know if it was on someone's [desktop] computer and it was switched or something like that. It just went away. That's what we're told.
"I'm not 100 percent convinced that if they keep looking for it, that it will turn up."
Specifically, Ellington said, photographs as well as a video have not been produced by the Police Department.
Cassinelli said she suspects that the missing video is of Naramore arriving at the courthouse on the morning of the death of his son and shows people passing by the vehicle throughout the next several hours until Naramore returns from the courthouse.
"This is a very serious matter, and it is very concerning that, with trial date long set and looming, we cannot get a straight answer about what evidence exists and what is missing, much less get the actual evidence, despite months of requests and a motion to compel production of the information or some explanation for a lack of production," Cassinelli said. "We have long had concerns about the communication between investigators and the prosecutor, and this confirms that our concerns were for good reason."
Cassinelli took issue with Young saying that all that was missing was "a pretty picture to show the jury" and that it was not critical to the case.
"Let me assure you, there are absolutely no 'pretty pictures' in this case. Nor are there just 'pictures of the judge's parked car,'" Cassinelli said. "It is concerning that a prosecutor would make such callous comments. And frightening that someone bestowed such authority would be so dismissive of the obligations that come with it."
"Along with the awesome responsibility of investigating crimes and prosecuting citizens comes the duty to preserve all information, both information that tends to show guilt and information that tends to show innocence, so that a jury or judge has all information to make a fully informed decision," she said. "Not only is it someone's job, it is in fact, a constitutional requirement. In this case, that video is important for obvious reasons. It shows a most crucial part of this tragic day. It is certainly not a pretty picture or just a picture of a parked car."
When asked what effect, if any, the missing evidence would have on the case, Ellington replied, "I guess we'll see as we get closer."
An pretrial hearing is set for 10 a.m. Friday.
The judge granted a defense motion Wednesday to seal a motion about a questionnaire to potential jurors. Making public the motion and the exhibits with a questionnaire -- which include "several news articles and comments from social media users reacting to those articles" -- would "further antagonize and prejudice the potential juror pool," the defense motion said.
The prosecution also filed Wednesday a response to Naramore's attorneys' motion to suppress evidence. A May 12 defense motion said Naramore was subjected to an unlawful arrest and that authorities failed to secure a proper search warrant.
The prosecution said in Wednesday's court filing that the arrest was legal and denied "each and every allegation set forth in the Defendant's Motion to Suppress."
As of late Wednesday, Langston had not ruled on the defense's motion to suppress evidence or the prosecution's request for a new trial date.
Metro on 06/02/2016