Judge strikes defense’s motion to dismiss
Double murder trial wades through hours of interview tapes as state nears last witness
NEVADA — There were a few things that investigators couldn’t square away as they started to look into Tanner King as a suspect — points prosecutors highlighted through several hours of interview recordings as they started to wrap up their last witness in the first-degree murder case against him on Monday.
“I never saw someone who has holsters and ammo, but doesn’t have a gun,” jurors heard Fort Dodge Police Detective Larry Hedlund say to King in one of the audio recordings, as a search warrant was served on his apartment the same day investigators heard suspicion-arousing statements.
One of those holsters, a modified elastic band that prosecutors say King wore the night of the shooting, has been one of the focal points in physical evidence for the state.
Prosecutors have also relied on a match of bullets — Tulammo brand .40-caliber bullets were found in King’s garbage can, at the scene of the shootings and in the bodies of the victims — as a central part of physical evidence they say ties King to the shooting of El Dominic and Marion Rhodes on Oct. 22, 2018.
King faces two first-degree murder charges stemming from their deaths after their bodies were found in an alley behind his former apartment building at Second Avenue North and Ninth Street.
“Because of what you’re telling us, Tanner, we’re going to keep looking at you and looking at you and looking at you,” Hedlund said to King in one contentious interview, “because we’re trying to get you out of the picture.”
Two flames in the defense team’s strategy were also extinguished on Monday, the trial’s fifth day.
First, District Court Judge Kurt Stoebe ruled on its Friday motion, in which they passionately accused the state of deliberately lying and withholding evidence that could help prove King’s innocence. At the center of that argument: a 500-page employee personnel document from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, dropped in the court’s lap on Friday, in which they say Hedlund is shown to be a liar.
Defense attorney Paul Rounds requested that the charges against King be dismissed with prejudice, meaning prosecutors would not be able to re-file the first-degree murder charges.
Stoebe denied that request for relief of what attorneys refer to as Brady and Giglio violations on nuanced grounds.
For one, he said the defense didn’t meet its burden of proof that those rules were violated by prosecutors, especially as egregiously as Rounds claimed they were.
Secondly, he said that his request would be an inappropriate remedy, even if the violation had occurred.
“Even if the court were to find a violation, the appropriate remedy would be a mistrial,” Stoebe said, in which the defendant could start over with a new trial and a new jury.
“If claims are made by one side and not answered, they’re presumed to have been correct,” said Assistant Attorney General Susan Krisco, marking the last word on the conflict that froze Friday’s proceedings and sent jurors home early to give the judge time to research for a timely ruling on the motion.
Krisco asked the defense to apologize for calling First Assistant Webster County Attorney Ryan Baldridge a liar as loudly and publicly as they made the allegations, keeping in mind that the claims could have a life beyond the trial in appeals of a conviction.
With that ruling aside, the show did go on as Hedlund took the witness stand. But not for long.
“I was a whistle blower,” was all Hedlund needed to say, in the first 30 seconds of his testimony, to trigger an objection that would ask the jury to leave the room yet again.
Rounds objected to Hedlund’s characterization of the circumstances surrounding his departure from the DCI — a major point of contention since Friday — and asked the court to limit his testimony to read that he was simply fired and is suing to get his job back, which both sides agreed to at the end of last week.
“If you deviate from the agreement, you don’t do it in the courtroom and ambush the other side,” Rounds said, trying to convince Stoebe that Krisco had opened the door to discuss the 500-page document in a cross-examination.
The state reiterated its argument that the document is still privileged information.
“They’re opening the door and saying we can’t look behind it,” Rounds said.
The judge agreed that the door “has been opened.” Hedlund’s cross-examination is expected to occur today after the prosecutors finish playing about six hours of interview recordings to the jury.
Points in support of the state’s argument of a “fair and thorough” investigation came across through Krisco’s direct examination of Hedlund: his lack of bias in the case (having not known King before the investigation) and his request of help from the DCI, an outside agency.
Points the state ascertained also included King’s constantly changing alibi, which Hedlund said could not be confirmed, his refusal to name others he implied might be involved and a lackluster explanation for having boxes of live ammunition around his apartment.
“It’s not my ammo, that’s why I threw it in the garbage,” he said.
“You have everything … with the exception of the gun,” Hedlund said later.
“I wish I could have a gun so I could shoot all of you guys,” King angrily said to Hedlund as they executed their search warrant.
But sifting through hours of audio recordings was not the only thing that happened in court Monday.
Rounds called the witness geared up to be perhaps one of the defense team’s strongest in terms of offering an alternate suspect to pin the murders on: Cletio Clark.
But unsure of whether Clark would “plea the fifth,” that is, assert his constitutional right not to incriminate himself, Rounds went through a list, asking the jail stripe garbed witness what he would be willing to talk about.
Clark said he would not answer questions regarding the events of the crime scene, his firearms habits or purchase of ammunition, his relationship with then-girlfriend Megan White, phrases used in interviews like “strapped up,” whether he thinks King “is an idiot,” whether King shot at him the day of the murders or his relationship with Johnny Young, the man Rounds said ordered Clark to take out hits on the Rhodes brothers.
That leaves a few topics of interest to the defense, which Clark said he would be willing to talk about: his criminal history, whether Hedlund pressured him, whether those in state government are pressuring him with regards to his other pending criminal cases, how long he’s known King, his fear of King and various issues of racial disparities in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
Rounds said that Clark used a line of racial arguments — being a black man unfairly persecuted by law enforcement — as a way to deceive and deflect Hedlund from pursuing him as a suspect in the shootings.
“Hedlund fell for it, and we’ll establish that Hedlund fell for it,” Rounds said.