HomeNewsCrime & CourtsAttorneys seeking dismissal of capital murder charges or suppression of evidence

Attorneys seeking dismissal of capital murder charges or suppression of evidence

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Attorneys for a man facing a capital murder trial in the 2017 disappearance and death of his stepdaughter are trying to convince a judge the case should be thrown out, or at a minimum, evidence should be suppressed.

The pretrial hearing for Leon Tripp, 43, began Monday, Nov. 21. Tripp has pleaded not guilty in Richmond County Superior Court to charges including murder in the death of LaTania Janell Carwell.

The teen’s mother reported her and her husband missing the morning of April 17, 2017, which was also Janell’s 16th birthday.

If convicted, a jury will be asked to decide punishment — life in prison with or without parole, or death.

Janell’s remains were found buried March 8, 2018, not far from the home where she lived with Tripp, her mother, Tayna Tripp, and little sister. Leon and Tayna Tripp, 40, were arrested at a DeKalb County U-Haul facility on May 23, 2018. Tayna Trip is accused of second-degree murder and other charges. She has pleaded not guilty. Her case is separate from her husband’s.

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Leon Tripp’s attorneys are seeking the dismissal of the case based on what they contend was the intentional violation of Tripp’s right to communicate privately with his attorney, and the violation of his right to be free of continual attempts at interrogation after he invoked his right to counsel.

On June 9, 2017, Tripp’s then attorney, Peter Johnson, got a call from the district attorney at the time, Natalie Paine. She told him Tripp was at the sheriff’s office and she asked if he wanted to be presented. Johnson headed over to the sheriff’s office, he testified Monday. Paine and Investigator Lucas Grant told Johnson that Tripp wanted to talk, but Johnson said he wanted to hear that from Tripp himself. He spoke to Tripp in one of the sheriff office’s interrogation rooms and then reported Tripp would not be making any statement that day. Johnson said he then left, believing that Tripp would be returned to the jail.

But Tripp wasn’t returned to the jail for several hours, during which time Grant talked to Tripp without his attorney. Grant testified Monday that he didn’t know Tripp’s attorney told Sheriff Richard Roundtree that Tripp would not be making a statement. Grant, who had just been assigned as the homicide investigator, said he didn’t know then that a person represented by an attorney cannot be questioned without his attorney being present.

Grant, Paine and the sheriff each testified Monday that they didn’t realize that the system used to video and audio record the interrogation rooms continued to record audio even when an officer turned off the sound audio portion of the recording system. They wouldn’t learn differently until the next year when a defense attorney in another murder case discovered a recording of his conversation with his client inside one of the interrogation rooms.

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Paine said she had no idea about the recording of the privileged conversations until she learned about it in the defense attorney’s motion to dismiss murder charges based on the constitutional violation. Because it’s such a basic right that everyone knows, she had no reason to believe the sheriff investigators would knowingly make such a recording, Paine said.

Roundtree testified he talked with Tripp with his attorney present that day, laying out for Tripp that he wanted to know if he was looking to rescue Janell or trying to locate her remains. Although Tripp didn’t answer the question, his attorney did, Roundtree said. Called back to the witness stand, Johnson emphatically denied telling Roundtree anything his client said.

After each side submits briefs, Chief Judge Daniel J. Craig will rule on the motions.

Sandy Hodson is a staff reporter covering courts for The Augusta Press. Reach her at sandy@theaugustapress.com. 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Who controls the interrogation rooms and the investigators questioning suspects? “Gratefulmother”, aka Investigator Richard Roundtree, (now our sheriff) who left the files of seven murder cases in his apartment when he moved out, .
    Compliance with laws and procedures and attention to detail lacking?

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