COLUMBIA — When Columbia Police pulled over Daniel Sanders for driving erratically, he told them his mother's advice was always to ask for an attorney right away if he ever got into trouble.
Minutes later, police found his mother's body in the trunk of his car, a Columbia police officer testified Thursday.
Sanders is accused of drowning his mother, Helen Sanders, 53, and then trying to hide the body. He is charged with second-degree murder and felony evidence tampering.
At a hearing Thursday, Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler sought to determine whether police acted appropriately in arresting Sanders, 20, and searching his car on the night of August 14, 2008. In a motion filed by Christopher Slusher, Sanders' attorney, Slusher says that during the traffic stop, police continued to question Sanders after he'd asked for an attorney.
Slusher also questioned whether police had probable cause to search Sanders' vehicle. He called for a suppression hearing, which allows evidence to be presented, so a judge can determine what can and can't be heard in trial.
Whether Sanders clearly asked for an attorney at the beginning of the traffic stop — when he shared his mother's advice — remains unclear, but the testimony shed new light on the events that led to the discovery of Helen Sanders' body and Sanders' arrest.
Columbia Police Officer Kyle DeOrnellas was one of the two officers that pulled Sanders over. DeOrnellas testified that during the traffic stop, he noticed $10 and $20 bills crumpled on the floor of Sanders' car and a box of surgical gloves. He said he suspected that Sanders was either using or manufacturing drugs. DeOrnellas said Sanders' hands were shaking and wouldn't consent to a search of the vehicle.
Sanders told DeOrnellas that he was driving without a license and the car was his mother's, DeOrnellas said. When DeOrnellas asked Sanders where his mother was, Sanders said she was at home.
DeOrnellas testified that he then asked Sanders for the phone number of someone who could come and move the car, which was parked partly on Audubon Drive. When Sanders gave him a number, DeOrnellas said, the person who answered "had no idea who Daniel Sanders was, and (said) that I had a wrong number."
DeOrnellas said he asked for a second number. Again, the person who answered didn't know Sanders. When DeOrnellas asked for a third number, Sanders gave his mother's number. When she didn't answer, Sanders said she might be sleeping, DeOrnellas testified.
Finally, thinking the car would have to be towed from the scene, the two officers called a tow truck to take Sanders' car and placed him under arrest, DeOrnellas said.
DeOrnellas then opened the trunk of Sanders' car to inventory its contents, which DeOrnellas and his partner, Jessica McNabb, testified is standard police procedure when a car is towed on police orders.
Sanders was cuffed and sitting in the back of McNabb's car, which was parked behind Sanders' car, when DeOrnellas found the body in the trunk, McNabb testified. She described how DeOrnellas reacted to the discovery.
"There's a body in the trunk!" DeOrnellas shouted, according to McNabb's testimony.
DeOrnellas then shouted an obscenity, — at which point she said Sanders told her, "Seeing as how he's saying (expletive), I want a lawyer."
When DeOrnellas walked back to McNabb's patrol car and shined a light on Sanders, Sanders was smiling, he testified. He had also somehow pulled his handcuffed hands from behind his back to the front of his body, either over his head or under his feet. DeOrnellas testified that Sanders then began squirming: moving side to side, moving forward and backward, bouncing up and down.
DeOrnellas said he did not ask Sanders any more questions after Sanders had asked for a lawyer, but the two weren't done talking.
Later, at the police station, when DeOrnellas was guarding Sanders' holding cell, Sanders came up to the observation window and tapped for his attention, DeOrnellas said.
"He asked me if I was mad at him," DeOrnellas told the court. "He told me I had expressive eyes and said he could tell I was mad." DeOrnellas told him he wasn't.
Sanders began to whistle, DeOrnellas said, and the two began talking about music.
Sanders did not visibly react to any of the testimony in court on Thursday — or to almost anything at all. He moved slowly and spent more time looking at the corners of tables and the rafters on the ceiling than at the witnesses on the stand.
The prosecution and the defense are expected to file their arguments for exclusion or admittance of evidence in the case by next weekend. Sanders' trial is scheduled for March 15, and the next pretrial hearing is set for Feb. 8.