Justices to Study Incriminating Statement in Missouri Murder
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether Missouri prosecutors may use as trial evidence the incriminating statements a woman made to police about a Kansas City murder.
The justices said they will review rulings that Zola Blair’s statements about the 1981 murder of Carl Lindstedt may not be used as evidence because police obtained them after an unlawful arrest.
Ms. Blair is charged with murder in the death of Lindstedt, whose body was found in a Swope Park lagoon on Nov. 24, 1981. The only lead police initially had about his death was a clear palm print taken from behind the passenger door of his truck.
According to court records, police in early 1982 received a tip that Blair family members may have been involved. The palm prints of three Blair family members were checked from police files, but there was no palm print of Zola Blair on file.
Police did not seek a homicide arrest or search warrant against Ms. Blair because they did not think there was enough evidence linking her to the crime to obtain a court warrant.
But after learning there was a city warrant for a parking violation outstanding against Ms. Blair, police apparently arrested her on that warrant.
When arrested, Ms. Blair was taken to the homicide unit and booked on a charge of homicide. Her palm print was taken. She was booked on the city parking warrant the same day, posted bond and was released.
Three days later police learned that Ms. Blair’s print matched the one found on Lindstedt’s car. Officers obtained a warrant for her arrest on the homicide charge.
During an interrogation, police confronted Ms. Blair with the matching prints and obtained what court records said were ″inculpatory statements.″
A state trial judge, later supported by a state appeals court and the Missouri Supreme Court, ruled that prosecutors could not use those statements as trial evidence against Ms. Blair because her palm print was obtained unlawfully.
The state’s highest court said that even if the first arrest was for the parking violation, it ″was at best a pretext employed to gather evidence on an unrelated homicide.″
″A well-established limitation on the search incident to a valid arrest exception (to the general rule requiring court warrants for police searches) is the rule that an arrest may not be used as a pretext to search for evidence,″ the Missouri Supreme Court said.
In seeking Supreme Court review, Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Albert A. Riederer said, ″The fact that the warrant (for the first arrest) was concerning an otherwise minor municipal offense is legally irrelevant.
″Counsel suggests that any ulterior motive had by the authorities which had the legal and constitutional right of arrest is legally irrelevant and does not become pretextual,″ Riederer said.