19-year-old to plead not guilty in tampering case

Monday, August 18, 2008 | 9:18 p.m. CDT; updated 11:39 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 4, 2008

COLUMBIA — The 19-year-old MU student charged with tampering with evidence after police found his mother's body in the trunk of a car he was driving will plead not guilty at a preliminary hearing scheduled for Tuesday, his attorney Christopher Slusher said.

Daniel A. Sanders is expected to appear in court, where Boone County Circuit Judge Deborah Daniels will hear 10 motions filed Monday by Slusher in attempt to learn what evidence Columbia police have gathered.

"We don't have access to any of the results of the investigation," Slusher said. "We don't know what (police have) found or they believe they've found."

On Aug. 15, Sanders was arrested on suspicion of felony tampering with evidence during a police investigation. According to a probable cause statement, Sanders tried to conceal the body of his 53-year-old mother, Helen Sanders, which obstructed the investigation into her death. If convicted, Sanders could face up to four years in prison.

Police have sent more evidence to the lab for testing, Columbia police Capt. Brad Nelson said, but he would not disclose the nature of that evidence.

Boone County Medical Examiner Eddie Adelstein said he has not determined a cause of death, and toxicology results could take up to two weeks.

Nelson said that Helen Sanders had breast cancer, but he believed it was in remission at the time of her death. Adelstein said there was no evidence cancer played a role in her death.

Because the autopsy was inconclusive, the case is still considered a death investigation by police, Nelson said.

A written complaint filed by the prosecutor states, "the defendant concealed Helen Sanders' body with the purpose to impair its availability in the investigation of the murder of Helen Sanders, an official investigation, and thereby impaired and obstructed the prosecution of Daniel Sanders for the crime of murder, a felony."

However, assistant prosecuting attorney Andrew Scholz said the charge is listed as interference with a murder investigation because of the suspicious nature of Helen Sanders' death.

"Anytime you have a death involving suspicious circumstances, it could be labeled a murder investigation," he said.

Asked if he expected his client to be charged with murder, Slusher said, "We don't have an expectation of that, but we certainly are investigating and preparing and trying to get to the bottom of the evidence in case that happens."

One of the defense motions was a request for a bond reduction, but Scholz said he would oppose dropping the $250,000 bond. He said he believed Sanders was a flight risk.

Sanders was initially arrested Thursday night after a Columbia police officer pulled him over near the intersection of Stadium Boulevard and U.S. 63, according to the probable cause statement released Monday. Police received several calls about a white Ford Crown Victoria with two Obama campaign bumper stickers driving erratically, the statement said. An officer saw the car, which was registered to Helen Sanders, run a stop light, according to the statement.

When the officer pulled the car over, Sanders, who was driving, admitted to running the light and invoked his right to legal counsel, the statement said. Sanders, who has an intermediate permit, said his mother was at home, but the police officer couldn't reach her. The officer found Helen Sanders' body in the trunk while doing an inventory of the car to prepare it to be towed.

Daniel Sanders' 16-year-old brother is also a person of interest in the case, Nelson said. Nelson would not release the young man's name. He is in the custody of family members, Nelson said. The boys' father has been out of the picture since birth, Nelson said.



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