ROGUE RIVER — The case against three suspects accused of robbing a medical marijuana grower in Rogue River at gunpoint took a huge hit after a judge ruled the evidence found in the alleged getaway car cannot be used in a trial.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia found that a Jackson County sheriff's deputy violated the constitutional rights of the suspects when he pulled their car over without probable cause the night the crime was reported.
The alleged robbery occurred in July 2012 at a home in the 3500 block of Evans Creek Road in Rogue River. Officials say a medical marijuana grower who lives there said he was robbed at gunpoint by two men wearing dark blue bandannas.
The suspects broke into the home while the victim was asleep, then forced him to hand over $700 in cash, the Sheriff's Department reported.
A struggle ensued, and the victim was beaten by the suspects; a shot was fired during the fight, though no one was hit by the bullet, according to records filed in Jackson County Circuit Court.
The suspects were last seen fleeing into a nearby wood.
Jackson County sheriff's Deputy Jesus Murillo was on patrol in White City when the robbery report came over the radio. He decided to make his way to the scene in Rogue River via Meadows Road, according to court documents.
At 3:55 a.m. Murillo saw a Mitsubishi Galant driving toward his patrol car on Meadows Road. Murillo decided to follow the car and eventually pulled it over.
According to court documents, the deputy approached the car and noticed that two men and a woman were inside. He asked them to leave the car and placed them in handcuffs.
One of the passengers gave deputies on the scene permission to search the vehicle. This turned up a gun matching the victim's description and some cash matching the denominations the victim claimed were stolen from his house, the documents state.
The suspects were identified as William Jack Thomas Sandlin, 23, Joseph Aaron Callas, 29, and Brooke Villa-Staton, 20, all of Grants Pass.
The traffic stop was ruled illegal by Mejia last week because there was no probable cause to pull the car over, according to defense attorney Justin Rosas.
Rosas noted in a motion to suppress the evidence collected in the car that Murillo stated that he intended to pull over every car he saw in the area that night without developing probable cause to initiate a traffic stop.
This is a violation of a defendant's constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure, the judge ruled.
The ruling means that all evidence seized in the car, including the money and the gun, would not be permissible at trial. This could deal the prosecution a severe blow in tying the alleged suspects to the robbery.
Jackson County prosecutor Jeremy Markiewicz declined to comment on the specifics of the traffic stop and the case. He did say that he would appeal the suppression ruling to the Oregon Attorney General's Office.
Rosas also declined to discuss the particulars of the case, choosing instead to release a prepared statement.
"I filed this motion to suppress based on what I felt was a clear violation of our client's rights in this case," Rosas said. "While we appreciate the State's right to appeal, we are confident the Judge made the right decision and upheld Mr. Callas' constitutional rights in the face of an illegal traffic stop."
Rosas is Callas' defense attorney, but the suppression ruling applies to all of the defendants.
All three have since been released from custody after pleading not guilty to charges of first-degree robbery, second-degree robbery and first-degree burglary. Callas and Sandlin also face a charge of third-degree assault in the case.
A pre-trial conference has been scheduled for Sept. 30 in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The incorrect agency was listed in the subhead of this story. This version has been corrected.