Many motions heard in Sanders murder case

Thursday, January 21, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:44 a.m. CST, Thursday, January 21, 2010
In a pretrial motion hearing Wednesday morning, Daniel Sanders's attorney, Christopher Slusher, filed more than a dozen motions. Sanders is accused of second-degree murder in the death of his mother, Helen Sanders, who was found dead in the trunk of a car he was driving.

COLUMBIA — They found her in the trunk.

Seventeen months ago, according to court documents, Columbia Police Officer Jessica McNabb pulled over then-19-year-old Daniel Sanders at Stadium Boulevard and Audubon Drive for running a red light and failing to use his headlights at night. Sanders didn't have a license. He asked for an attorney almost immediately.

After a search of the trunk, McNabb found the body of Sanders' mother beneath a tire — next to a new shovel with the price tag still on it.

Helen Sanders, 53, had apparently been drowned, Boone County Deputy Medical Examiner Eddie Adelstein later said. Daniel Sanders was arrested, charged with felony evidence tampering and, later, second-degree murder.

Now, 17 months after his arrest, more than 100 witnesses have been named by the prosecution, multiple search warrants have been executed and forensic tests completed. Sanders' case file, stuffed with affidavits and motions aplenty, is two inches thick.

And there's still work to do before the case can come to trial on March 15, as currently scheduled.

Wednesday morning, Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler heard over a dozen motions from Sanders' attorney, Christopher Slusher.

Many of Slusher's motions were minor: one to limit outbursts of emotion from the gallery during a trial (granted by Oxenhandler); another to make police witnesses testify in plainclothes and not in their uniforms (denied).

Others were less about trial procedure and aimed more at legal nuances regarding psychology. Oxenhandler sustained Slusher's motion to exclude a book on suicide that police found in Sanders' room but quashed another seeking to limit discussion by the prosecution of his alleged "lack of remorse." Slusher argued that witness testimony regarding remorse usually verges on speculation and that his client's demeanor was not necessarily indicative of guilt.

During the morning's proceedings, Sanders sat hunched in his chair as Slusher argued his cause. Sanders' hair, mop-like and overgrown, fell past his eyebrows. He wore a white-and-gray Boone County Jail jumpsuit, leather flip-flops and a tattered, long-sleeved undershirt torn at the elbow. Heavy-lidded and sluggish, he seemed to move as if underwater — when he moved at all.

Because of a tight schedule, many of Slusher's motions will be taken up at a later hearing — among them, one seeking to suppress evidence resulting from McNabb's search of Sanders' car.

In that motion, Slusher said McNabb continued to question Sanders after he asked for an attorney and that the search of the car was conducted without a warrant or probable cause. Slusher characterized the search and the continued questioning as unconstitutional and thus inadmissible in trial.

McNabb was a rookie police officer at the time of the stop, Columbia Police spokeswoman Jessie Haden told the Missourian in an e-mail. She said McNabb has since retired from the force because of injuries sustained in a car accident.

Other loose ends remain. The prosecution's indictment of Sanders claims he didn't act alone in the alleged murder of his mother. According to previous Missourian reports, Sanders' brother, Gary Sanders, then 16, was also named as a suspect in the case.

Boone County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Scholz could not be reached for comment as to whether Gary Sanders will face charges or even remains a suspect. Gary Sanders is not listed among the prosecution's potential witnesses.

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