Judge considers argument to dismiss indictment in taxi driver slashing

Assistant public defender says police acted recklessly when arresting his client

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2004

The attorney for the man charged in the Jan. 7 slashing of a Juneau taxi driver could get an answer soon to his motion seeking dismissal of the indictment, Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks said Wednesday.

But Weeks also had questions for assistant public defender David Seid, representing Aaron St. Clair Jr. on charges including attempted first-degree murder.

St. Clair, 22, is accused of slashing taxi driver Eric Drake's throat from behind and stabbing him multiple times elsewhere, including his head, abdomen and legs. Drake told police he was robbed of $60 by a knife-wielding man and a female accomplice.

St. Clair and his wife, Violet St. Clair, 18, were arrested in February. A grand jury indicted both on charges of first-degree assault and first-degree robbery. Aaron St. Clair's indictment also included the attempted murder charge and a charge of tampering with evidence.

The St. Clairs, who are represented by different attorneys, are scheduled to stand trial separately in October.

Seid argued Wednesday that police "at least acted recklessly" in arresting his client.

"Police have to go through certain steps," he said. "They didn't do it."

At the hearing, Weeks ordered that allegedly incriminating statements made by Aaron St. Clair the night of his arrest can't be used by the prosecution, a point conceded by in court filings by Assistant District Attorney Doug Gardner. Seid argued that police continued questioning Aaron St. Clair after he indicated he wanted an attorney present.

However, the judge also asked Seid if independent statements by Violet St. Clair after her arrest would be enough foundation for the charges.

"Both were illegal arrests," Seid answered, asserting that the police needed a warrant to arrest the St. Clairs in their home. "I don't think (police) had probable cause."

Gardner told the judge officers had probable cause to make the felony arrests, meeting the standards required by Alaska law.

Police investigator Paul Hatch testified to Violet St. Clair's statements linking her and her husband to the robbery. He said she had been advised of her constitutional rights to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning and chose to speak.

He also explained events that led to police suspecting the St. Clairs. Officers determined that the call for Drake's cab was made from Violet St. Clair's cell phone.

Later, Barbara Williams came to police in February, relating that she and David George stayed with the St. Clairs after arriving in Juneau from Kake on Jan. 8. Williams said George told her about comments Aaron St. Clair had made about the robbery, including the amount taken from Drake, a figure that hadn't been released to the media.

Seid questioned if such third-hand information provided probable cause for the arrests. Hatch said he didn't interview George until after the St. Clairs were taken into custody.

Gardner said it would have been better if officers had gotten an arrest warrant. But he suggested the judge listen to the recording of the testimony by officers who applied to Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins for three search warrants that were served at the St. Clairs' home the night they were arrested.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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