FLORENCE — A judge has denied one request to suppress evidence in a case involving the death of an Apache Junction couple in 2016.
After more than a day of testimony and arguments, Judge Robert Carter Olson denied a motion to suppress evidence gathered when law enforcement officers seized a vehicle belonging to Demian Blu. Olson said he would take a second motion to suppress evidence gathered during an police interview with Blu under advisement and issue a ruling at a later date on that motion.
In his verbal decision from the bench, Olson stated that he found that Blu’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated when officers seized his car.
Blu is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of concealing or abandoning a dead body and participating in a street gang.
The murder charges stem from the 2016 deaths of Keith Long and Renae Gardner, who were shot and killed while sleeping in their home in a mobile home park in Apache Junction. Long’s body was found in a canal in San Tan Valley. Gardner’s body was found later along Beeline Highway, State Route 87 between Phoenix and Payson.
Pinal County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Clint Wendelschafer, 34, of Tempe, Nicholas Douglas, 45, of San Tan Valley and Blu, 42, of Apache Junction in connection with the case.
Blu’s attorney Joshua Wallace filed the two motions to suppress last month. Wallace argued that Blu was arrested without a warrant and without probable cause while he was walking to the Apache Junction Police Station to meet with police. He also stated in his motion that Blu was not read his Miranda rights or advised that he could have an attorney present before the interview with police began.
Wallace also claimed that officers seized and towed Blu’s car without getting a warrant first.
During an evidentiary hearing before Judge Olson that was spread over two days, Wallace and Pinal County Deputy Attorney Amy Diederich grilled Apache Junction officers, Pinal County Sheriff’s deputies and detectives involved in the case.
in his verbal ruling, Olson said that while he did believe Blu’s car was parked in the curtilage of the house, the seizure of the car was not a violation of Blu’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Curtilage refers to the land immediately surrounding a home that a homeowner or renter might use on a daily basis, such as a porch, driveway, walkway, etc. The 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case Collins v. Virginia determined that an officer cannot enter the curtilage of a home to seize or search a vehicle without a warrant.
Olson said because officers, and anyone else who would have wanted to knock on the front door, would have to use the driveway and walk past the car, Blu had no reasonable expectation of privacy in that area of the property.
Officers also did not know who parked the car on the property, if or when the car might be moved and who had access to the vehicle, Olson said. Therefore, the seizure of the car before getting a warrant was proper under the Fourth Amendment exception for vehicles.
Even if the officers made an error in towing the vehicle before getting a warrant, the error was not so grave that the evidence from the vehicle should be suppressed, Olson said.