PINE BLUFF -- Prosecutors suffered a setback on Tuesday in the upcoming murder trial of Tony Warren when Circuit Judge Alex Guynn tossed out a key piece of evidence.
Warren, 21, of Pine Bluff, was charged on April 12, 2019, in the April 8 shooting death of Clifton McDowell, 24, at the intersection of Iris Street and Howard Drive in Pine Bluff.
Warren was initially arrested on drug and firearm charges in a traffic stop April 9 in Pine Bluff, during which police recovered 21 grams of marijuana, a Springfield Armory semi-automatic handgun, a box of .45 ACP ammunition, digital scales and a cellphone. He was charged three days later in connection with McDowell's slaying.
The case is scheduled for a jury trial beginning Jan. 22.
During a suppression hearing in Guynn's courtroom Tuesday, Warren's attorney, Megan Wilson-Lowman of the James Law Firm in Little Rock, argued successfully to suppress evidence taken from the cellphone, contending that the search warrant police used to obtain incriminating information from the phone was too broadly written.
She contended that the warrant made it appear that police were searching for information on drug activity when, in reality, they were searching for information relating to the shooting death of McDowell.
Initially, Warren told detectives that he was in Little Rock at the time of the shooting, staying at a motel with a cousin, according to a probable-cause affidavit. According to the affidavit, during a search of the cellphone, police found text messages indicating that he was in Pine Bluff on Howard Drive five minutes before the shooting.
Wilson-Lowman argued that the search warrant used by police to obtain evidence from the cellphone was misleading in that the wording made it appear that detectives were searching for evidence of drug activity when, she said, they had already developed Warren as a suspect in the McDowell death.
In his ruling, Guynn agreed that the search warrant was overly broad and that the search of the phone did not turn up any evidence that was cited in the search warrant.
"It's the court's view that there was no connection to the cellphone and drug transactions or anything that I can ascertain that Mr. Warren was a drug dealer," Guynn said in his ruling to suppress the evidence obtained from the cellphone.
Jay Gerard, a prosecutor with the office of Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter, said the exclusion of the cellphone evidence was a setback to the state's case against Warren, but he said the ruling had no effect on other evidence prosecutors have.
If Guynn's ruling is appealed, it would result in a delay of the trial, prosecutors said, but in comments made after the ruling, Hunter indicated that such an appeal is unlikely.
"We have other evidence that we believe is sufficient for a conviction," he said. "We plan to take this case to trial on the 22nd."
If convicted, Warren could spend the rest of his life in prison.
State Desk on 01/12/2020
Print Headline: Evidence tossed in slaying case