Thompson attorneys introduce motion to dismiss alleged murder weapon

Defense attorneys for double homicide suspect Robert Thompson have asked a Merced Superior Court judge to dismiss the alleged murder weapon from Thompson's upcoming trial -- a metal car jack prosecutors believe contained the blood of 15-year-old Sheila Carter.

Thompson, 42, is scheduled be tried for the second time June 9 as the defendant in the 1986 killings of Carter and 12-year-old Jodi Ragsdale, both of whom were bludgeoned to death.

His first trial ended in a hung jury.

Defense attorney Randy Thomas said he believes critical questions remain over how law enforcement handled the alleged murder weapon.

Prosecutors Dave Moranda and Mark Bacciarini dismissed the claims of Thompson's attorneys, saying the car jack, which was allegedly found in Thompson's car, still contained the victims' blood.

Presiding Judge John Kirihara did not rule on the motion Wednesday, saying he would reserve judgment until May 16.

Thomas argued Wednesday that numerous discrepancies exist about law enforcement's chain of custody for the murder weapon, adding that investigators who testified during Thompson's first trial even gave various descriptions about the car jack's condition and how it was located.

With the numerous questions looming over the car jack, Thomas said an adequate legal basis exists to completely exclude it from Thompson's trial in June.

"We don't even know it's the same jack," he told Kirihara. "This case, I am convinced, requires you to exclude the (car) jack based on the law and the facts."

Thompson, who is accused of bludgeoning Ragsdale and Carter to death, was arrested for the crime Aug. 18, 2006, after investigators determined that blood on the car jack contained Carter's DNA. At the time the car jack was initially discovered, DNA testing was not a routine tool used by law enforcement to solve crimes.

The jack was allegedly found in a white 1965 Mercury Comet that prosecutors believe belonged to Thompson. The victims' bodies were discovered along the shoulder of Campodonica Road near Cressey on Dec. 13, 1986.

During the hearing, Thomas pointed to what he characterized as numerous discrepancies about how the car jack ended up in the hands of investigators.

For example, Sgt. James Court of the Atwater Police Department testified that he found the car jack in the Comet's trunk and that the car was impounded after conducting a search warrant on the home of Thompson's half-brother in January 1987.

Former Merced County Sheriff's detective Hector Garibay testified that he impounded the car when investigators were searching for a pair of shoes.

Thomas said investigators also gave conflicting testimony about the car jack -- some describing it as partially covered in mud, others saying it appeared clean.

Different investigators also provided varied accounts about the blood pattern on the car jack. One called the blood pattern "a spatter", another said there were only a few drops of blood, while another said the jack had hair, blood and tissue on it.

In addition, Thomas said the evidence in the case was not properly tagged and that the trunk of the Comet was not properly sealed. He also said the identities of the tow truck driver and tow truck company that brought the Comet to the sheriff's department are unknown.

Thomas was joined at the hearing by David Wellenbrock, a former attorney in the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office now part Thompson's defense team.

"This is not some police conspiracy we're arguing here," Wellenbrock said. "But nobody knows what happened to the (car) jack."

In response to the defense's claims, Bacciarini argued that even though the testimony of investigators differed about the condition of the car jack, it's not unusual for recollections to vary in a case that's more than 21 years old.

Regardless of the defense's claims, Bacciarini said the car jack still had the victims' blood on it. "It is what it is," he said of the jack.

Prosectors said they weren't surprised by the defense motion, since Thompson's attorneys filed similar motions before his first trial. "It's a motion we've heard before. We'll probably hear it again," Moranda said.

Kirihara said even though defense attorneys have previously filed motions to dismiss the car jack from Thompson's trial, he's not "inclined to rubber stamp" his judgment on the defense's current motion.

A mistrial was declared in Thompson's trial in February, with at least four members of the 12-member jury unconvinced of his guilt. Thompson remains at the Merced County Jail without bail.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.