Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2014

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Lawyer: Statements illegal

In a taped conversation, Craig Titus told Metro Police that his assistant, 28-year-old Melissa James, died of a drug overdose. Then he said he and his wife, Kelly Ryan, panicked.

Using duct tape and blankets, he bound the body, carried it to his car, drove the car outside of town and burned it. The couple, championship bodybuilders, went to Massachusetts, where police caught them.

Titus and Ryan are charged with murder for James' death, and prosecutors plan to use what the two told police in trial.

But Titus' lawyer says the statements were obtained illegally - they were recorded without police telling Titus a tape recorder was running. That's legal in Nevada, but the interviews happened in Massachusetts, where it's illegal.

The conflict in laws is expected to create a novel court fight. The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled on the issue of conflicting state law in civil cases, but hasn't touched the issue in a criminal case.

"There is a distinction here because not only is evidence obtained not admissible, but the manner it was obtained is a felony under Massachusetts law," said Titus' attorney Richard Schonfeld, who has filed a motion to have the statement excluded from trial. "The bottom line is you cannot reward Metro officers for unlawful conduct."

Schonfeld said the claim that Metro detectives "wanted to secretly record" Titus' statement is supported by the fact that in 11 other recorded interviews conducted in the case by Metro the witness is asked "do you understand this interview is being recorded?"

That question, however, is absent in the Boston interview of Titus. In Massachusetts police are required to make such statements. They're not in Nevada, but prosecutors say the tape recorder was on the table in plain sight.

The issue facing a District Court judge in Nevada will be whether the Metro Police detectives were bound by Massachusetts law.

Prosecutor Becky Goettsch, who is prosecuting the couple with Robert Daskas, said, "the detectives are governed by Nevada law and it doesn't matter how you slice it, the detectives in this case followed Nevada law when interviewing Mr. Titus."

In a civil case involving activity in another state the Nevada Supreme Court set up a test to solve the issue of conflicting state laws. The test is largely centered on the location of actions in the case.

Goettsch argues that under such a test it's clear the Metro detectives are not bound to the Massachusetts law.

Goettsch said Titus is a Nevada resident and District Court in Clark County "has an unequivocal interest in applying Nevada law to a Nevada criminal case."

The prosecutor contends "it is illogical that a Nevada criminal court overseeing a Nevada prosecution would be required to apply and interpret Massachusetts law."

Lynne Henderson, a professor of constitutional and criminal law at Boyd Law School, said one must first examine whether the detectives simply made "a good faith mistake" and then "whether the Nevada courts are bound to the laws of Massachusetts."

She said the Nevada courts are "definitely not bound" to the laws of Massachusetts and unless the defense attorneys can find an applicable federal law the motion will probably fail.

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