05/21/04 — Defense says "snitches' planted in client's cell

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Defense says "snitches' planted in client's cell

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on May 21, 2004 2:03 PM

KENANSVILLE -- A Superior Court judge heard motions Thursday in the trial of a Mount Olive woman accused last January of murdering her boyfriend at their home in Duplin County.

Judge Gary Trawick told Tammy Sue Wilt's defense law-yer, Glenn Barfield of Goldsboro, that the probable cause found by Duplin County Magistrate Janice Johnson to draw up an arrest warrant stands, and he will not suppress any statements made by Ms. Wilt while she has been in custody in the Duplin County Jail.

"This court lacks authority to disturb findings of the magistrate," said Trawick. "The grand jury was the proper test of those proceedings. The magistrate is not in a position to be a fact finder. I couldn't put that burden on her."

On Thursday morning, Ms. Wilt came to the Duplin County Courthouse from the Wayne County Jail.

In mid-January last year, Duplin sheriff's investigators charged her with murder after the Jan. 5 shooting death of Phil Britt at his home on Garner Chapel Road.

On April 3, 2003, a grand jury returned a true bill of indictment against her.

Barfield told the judge he wanted the indictment against Ms. Wilt dismissed. He said there was no probable cause when the arrest warrant was served on Jan. 15, because not enough information had been gathered at that time.

He said the detective brought no evidence to the magistrate when she swore out the warrant.

He said evidence that led to the indictment came after several people had been planted in Ms. Wilt's cell to get her to talk about the shooting. He said they even gave reports about what he and his client discussed when he came to see her.

"State and federal law says any evidence gained during an illegal arrest should be suppressed by the court," he said. "The illegal arrest and incarceration should be dismissed. ... Every inmate with whom she was placed was interviewed and tried to collect information to report it back to the district attorney. ... She denies making those statements."

He said the "snitches" planted in her cell in the Duplin County Jail admitted they were told to find out the location of the murder weapon, which he said has never been found, and to find out the motive.

"One of them was inserted into the jail by a fictitious warrant," he said. "It's hard to wrap your mind around this."

Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee didn't answer the allegation about planted cell mates, but he said the officer who swore out the warrant found sufficient probable cause. All she had to find was a "reasonable suspicion" that Britt was the victim of a crime, and Ms. Wilt "probably" did it, Lee said.

"He is asking the state to second guess a magistrate and a grand jury," said Lee. "This motion shouldn't even be before the court."

Barfield called forth the magistrate and Wendy Murray, who was the sheriff's detective who swore out the warrant.

Janice Johnson said she has been a magistrate 27 years, and she knows how arrest warrants are issued. She said she based the warrant on Detective Murray's sworn testimony at the time. She said she did not issue any search warrants in the case.

Ms. Murray, who left the Duplin County Sheriff's Office shortly after the time of the arrest to stay home with her children, had been a deputy three years. She said she had enough probable cause to swear out the warrant after reading all of the statements that officers had taken from Ms. Wilt and witnesses. She said she found holes in Ms. Wilt's story about what happened.

She said a woman told officers about a relationship she had with Britt while he was living with Ms. Wilt. She said the woman, Lucinda Goff, told officers that Britt had proposed to her and given her a ring two weeks before he died.

She said the woman told investigators that Britt let Ms. Wilt know that he was marrying Ms. Goff, the night before he died. During the investigation, she said, Ms. Wilt "never showed any emotions or concern about the victim."

But Barfield said she had no physical evidence, just "editorialized" statements in her report concerning inconsistencies she said she found in Ms. Wilt's story. He said her report "lacked even circumstantial evidence."

Barfield has been involved in the courts 18 years, and Assistant D.A. Lee has 17 years of experience. He and Lee both said they had never seen a situation like this arise. The judge said he hadn't either, and he has been involved in the courts as long as both of them.

But Judge Trawick said the officer obviously had to have been convinced, or she never would have gone to the magistrate. He said officers arrest people often before investigations are complete.

Ms. Wilt's trial is several months away, said Barfield.