AP NEWS

Judge allows evidence from home in beating death

May 19, 2019

HUNTINGTON — A Cabell circuit judge declined Tuesday to throw out evidence collected at the home of a man accused of beating a woman to death in West Huntington in 2017 after his attorney claimed police illegally had searched the home without a warrant.

Zaire Ashanti Monroe, aka Shareef, 36, of Huntington, is charged with murder in the fatal beating of Lisa Washburn, 39, of South Point, Ohio, on June 1, 2017. Washburn was found on the porch of a house at the intersection of 10th Avenue West and 5th Street West, nearly two blocks away from where Monroe lived and where the altercation allegedly began.

Monroe’s attorney Jack Dolance on Tuesday asked that evidence collected from his home be thrown out after he alleged Huntington Police had illegally searched the home prior to retrieving a search warrant. Assistant prosecutor Joe Fincham argued police had only entered the home to search for additional victims after viewing blood through an open door.

After more than an hour of testimony from about five police officers Tuesday, Cabell Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell ruled the officers’ actions were appropriate to make sure there were no additional victims.

“We have a dead woman a block away. We’ve got blood on the floor. We’ve got a front door that’s open. (The home) has a history where the officer actually knew who lived there,” he said. “How is that not a (reason) to check on the welfare of a possible other victim?”

Much of Tuesday’s testimony came from HPD Cpl. Ben Howard, who said he had originally responded to the scene for a disturbance call and did not have many details about what had occurred. He was told a woman had been banging on doors seeking help and a naked black male was seen beating her. Once the victim was found, Howard branched off to search for an unknown suspect and find where the scene had originally started.

Howard said he discovered clothes and a wallet in an alley, but he did not touch them. As he explored the block, he noticed a few homes with open screen doors, as if someone had opened them to knock on the door.

Howard investigated the outside of each home until he arrived at the residence where the defendant admitted he had been staying. He was familiar with the home because he had previously responded to a domestic disturbance call at the location involving Monroe. He said he knew Monroe from playing basketball growing up.

Sneakers were found on the sidewalk in front of the home and Howard said he could see through windows in the home, which had an open front door and closed screen door.

Howard testified he saw what appeared to be blood and overturned furniture in the home’s living room from the outside and decided to enter the home to search for additional victims. Once no victims were found, police exited the home until detectives were able to obtain a search warrant, he said.

Dolance argued Huntington police targeted the Monroe home with no reason other than an unfounded claim of domestic violence for which no one had been arrested. Even though they had no evidence placing Monroe as a suspect, the officers chose to only enter his home and none of the others with open screen doors.

“How do you go from naked black male (as a suspect) to arriving to it must be (his address),” he said.

Fincham said officers did not find blood or clothing at any of the other houses, which would give them the same cause to enter the homes. He said the officers would not have entered the home if they had not seen the blood and overturned furniture.

“I believed based on the totality of the circumstances, (the officers’) actions were reasonable at the time in order to possibly save a life,” he said. ”(They) did not know at that time whether there were additional victims possibly at that residence.”

An application for a search warrant of the home, filed by Huntington Police Detective Shane Bills, said the officers had not seen the blood until entering the home, Dolance said. Bills testified he applied for the search warrant without having been at the scene and was relying on information officers gave him to make the application.

The warrant said the door to the home was open and the house was unsecured, but did not say the screen door had been closed, Dolance said.

Monroe’s trial is set for July 30 in Farrell’s courtroom.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and @HesslerHD via Twitter.

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