Appeals court OKs dropped cigarette-butt evidence in slaying at lawyer’s home

Appeals court OKs dropped cigarette-butt evidence in slaying at lawyer’s home
A cigarette butt dropped in a parking lot by a suspect in a slaying at a North Carolina lawyer’s home was properly used as evidence even though police had no warrant, a state appeals court has ruled.

Lawyers for Jason K. Williford had argued that DNA found on the cigarette butt should have been suppressed at his Wake County rape-murder trial, the News & Observer reports. Williford was convicted in 2012 and is serving a life term.

His victim, state school board member Kathy Taft, was sexually assaulted and fatally beaten in Raleigh in 2010 at a lawyer’s home at which she had been staying. The newspaper article does not identify the attorney.

In a Tuesday decision (PDF), the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld Williford’s conviction and said the cigarette butt Williford dropped outside his own apartment in a parking lot shared by other residents of the building was akin to fingerprints or shoe prints at a crime scene, the newspaper reports.

An officer in an unmarked car had Williford’s home under surveillance at the time and saw him drop the cigarette butt, the court notes.

“We hold that once defendant voluntarily abandoned the cigarette butt in a public place , he could no longer assert any constitutional privacy interest in it,” the appeals court wrote. “Accordingly, the extraction of his DNA from the butt did not constitute a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.”

WRAL stories about the appellate ruling and Williford’s sentencing provide additional details.

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