Teen charged with murder in mother's death

Friday, December 5, 2008 | 5:48 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The Columbia teen police say drove through town with his mother’s body in the trunk of the car was indicted for second-degree murder Friday, and his younger brother is considered a suspect in the case.

The indictment says 19-year-old Daniel Sanders, "acting in concert with another," drowned his mother, Helen Sanders, on Aug. 14. Sanders then tampered with evidence by hiding his mother's body in the trunk, the indictment says.

Columbia Police Capt. Brad Nelson said the investigation is still open, and police consider Sanders’ 16-year-old brother, Gary, a suspect.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Scholz said, “Gary has not been charged, but the investigation is ongoing.”

Because Gary Sanders is a juvenile, Scholz said, the Boone County prosecutor’s office could not charge him with a crime unless he was certified as an adult. The decision of whether to do that rests with the family court system, he said.

Family court commissioner Sara Miller said, through an assistant, that she could not comment on an ongoing case.

Scholz and Nelson said that, as far as they knew, Gary Sanders is currently in Texas with family members.

Friday’s indictment came almost four months after police pulled Sanders over near Stadium Boulevard and Audubon Drive for driving erratically and found Helen Sanders’ body wrapped in a blanket and next to what appeared to be a newly purchased shovel in the trunk.

He was charged in August with tampering with physical evidence in a felony prosecution. The addition Friday of the murder charge came more than three months after a Boone County Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide.

With the new charge came an increase in bond to $1 million, cash only. Friday afternoon, Sanders was being held in the Boone County Jail and was scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Boone County Court.

An assistant to Sanders’ lawyer, Christopher Slusher, said Friday that Slusher was unavailable for comment.

Scholz said the number of items requiring lab analysis and the backlog at the Missouri Highway Patrol lab contributed to the time it took to file charges, which he said was not unusual in murder cases.

“The prosecuting attorney’s office doesn’t want to charge anyone unless we feel there is enough evidence to do so,” he said, adding, “It’s as thorough an investigation as I have seen.”

Scholz said he couldn’t comment on any specific evidence or what lab analysis was performed.

Boone County Medical Examiner Eddie Adelstein, who performed the autopsy, said DNA specimens were taken from scrapes on Helen Sanders’ body, but he doesn’t know the outcome of the lab analysis of those samples.

When police pulled Sanders over on Aug. 14, he had scratches on his arms and face, court records stated. When police originally questioned him, they took nail clippings and swabbed his mouth, according to court documents.

Police searched the Sanders home at 4509 Melrose Drive multiple times, seizing items ranging from a computer to a Gerbes receipt and later examining a large bathtub "capable of holding enough water to successfully drown inside of," court records showed.

Adelstein’s autopsy found that Helen Sanders had, in addition to a significant amount of fluid in her lungs, a broken sternum and broken ribs, injuries that could have resulted from attempted CPR, Adelstein said.

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