Search legality questioned in Fox Lake homicide
JUNEAU – Questions about whether a home was searched in violation of Constitutional rights during a homicide investigation were raised during a court hearing for Laverne Ware Jr. on Wednesday.
The issue has been reviewed in a series of hearings over the course of six months after a motion by the defense. The defense is asking the court to determine if law enforcement violated Fourth Amendment while searching a Fox Lake home using the community caretaker exception.
Ware, formerly of Fox Lake, is accused of fatally shooting his girlfriend, Sesalie Dixon, who was also his first cousin. Dixon’s body was found Dec. 4, 2016, in the passenger seat of a truck owned by Ware that was parked in a garage at his mother’s Fox Lake residence at 100 We Go Trail, which he had owned at the time. An autopsy revealed that Dixon died of three gunshots to the head.
Ware, 38, is charged with first-degree homicide, hiding a corpse, incest and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He could face life in prison if convicted of the homicide charge. Ware has been in custody in the Dodge County Jail since January 2017 on a $2.5 million cash bond.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution addresses search and seizure law and requires a warrant to search properties, but has a few exceptions including the community caretaker exception. Under the community caretaker exception, the officer may search the home without a warrant if they believe an occupant is at imminent risk of harm.
In February, Ware had a different team representing his case, but they began the process. Several law enforcement officers as well as Ware took the stand on Feb. 26 while the court gathered information about the search of the house. Ware, who said he alone owned the house, was not asked if the house could be searched.
Defense attorneys Aneeq Ahmad and Jennifer Severino represent Ware now and saw over the final half of the hearing on Wednesday when Dodge County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Joe Nicholas and deputy Kevin Homan took the stand.
While Homan was the first officer at the scene, Nicholas talked to Dodge County Sheriff briefly before Ware appeared to officers on Dec. 4. 2016.
“There was no signs of struggle in the living room?” Ahmad asked.
“The information provided was the victim was in the garage,” Nicholas said.
“You didn’t hear anything from the garage?” Ahmad asked.
Nicholas said he did not hear anything.
Nicholas said that Ware’s mother Marjorie Jones was cooperative, but would not give consent to search the house. He went outside to contact Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt via police radio, and they discussed if the garage could be searched due to the community caretaker provision or if a warrant would be needed.
Nicholas went back in the house with Jones, and the other officers and they discussed a warrant with Jones shortly before Ware came out of a bedroom. Nicholas said he went to the garage and Jones’ boyfriend, Vernon Mickey, opened the door to the garage. He then saw blood coming from the truck. Mickey lived in the home and had contacted police from Kwik Trip in Fox Lake that day.
Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomberg asked why community caretaker was brought up by the sheriff.
“We still have a potential victim to give aid,” Nicholas said, before describing entering the garage.
“I walked up to the truck, and it was locked,” Nicholas said. “I looked through the window, and I saw her.”
Ahmad asked if Nicholas asked about Dixon when he went to the house.
Nicholas said he did not.
Homan said he did ask Jones about searching the garage for Dixon, but he did not ask Jones if she knew of possible ways to contact Dixon either.
The attorneys will be able to file briefs about the motion before the Nov. 2 date when Dodge County Circuit Court Judge Brian Pfitzinger will make a decision on the motion and several others still on the table in the case.