Kansas City, Mo. Some law enforcement officials are questioning why a suburban Kansas City couple who investigators suspected were involved in a woman's murder were not arrested shortly after they were first interviewed by police, a newspaper reported Friday.
Instead, Richard D. Davis and his girlfriend, Dena Riley, were told to leave their Independence apartment while officers tried to obtain a search warrant. They disappeared for eight days, touching off a national search and culminating in the alleged kidnapping and sexual assault of a 5-year-old Kansas girl.
Davis and Riley are charged in Jackson County with first-degree murder, first-degree assault, kidnapping, rape and sodomy in the death of Marsha Spicer, whose sexual abuse and torture police say the couple videotaped.
They are suspects in the death of Michelle Ricci, although they have not been charged in that case.
They also are charged with kidnapping the 5-year-old girl from her home in Arcadia. Prosecutors allege the girl was sexually assaulted before Davis and Riley were captured on May 25.
Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh told the Kansas City Star he ordered his investigators to tell the couple to leave their apartment after a 20-minute interview on May 17 because he did not believe there was enough evidence to ensure the couple could be held in jail.
The Star analyzed search warrant affidavits, other court documents and interviews related to several key decisions made May 17 that allowed the couple to go on the run.
Law enforcement officials and others in the criminal justice system don't agree on whether the situation was handled correctly.
"But there isn't one of us who wouldn't sell their soul to prevent what happened to that little girl," said Independence Police Capt. Brad Halsey.
Lafayette County investigators originally went to Davis' apartment because a friend of Spicer's told them Davis had made comments about strangling a woman and disposing of the body.
While in the apartment, the investigators and an Independence police sergeant noticed a video camera pointed at the only bed and saw a notebook with writings of a sexual and violent nature. And Riley admitted the marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the apartment belonged to the couple, The Star reported.
Although the interview and evidence in the apartment made investigators suspect the couple in Spicer's murder, Alumbaugh decided that arresting them on a marijuana charge might jeopardize the murder investigation.
"We just didn't have enough (evidence)," he said. "We weren't ready to do hard questioning on them. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, (but) we just didn't know. You have to build the case."
Jackson County Prosecutor Mike Sanders told The Star that Davis and Riley could have been arrested for suspected possession of marijuana and held for up to 20 hours without jeopardizing the homicide investigation.
Sanders said investigators also could have tried to have Davis, a convicted rapist, arrested for violating his parole, because drugs were found in his apartment.
The sheriff said Sanders' comments were hindsight and he doesn't believe Davis and Riley would have been held on marijuana possession even as part of a murder case.
"Misdemeanor marijuana is not something they put on 20-hour holds in Jackson County," Alumbaugh said.
Independence police officials said they likely would have asked the couple to agree to further questioning after the initial interview, but they would not criticize Lafayette County's handling of the case.
"Would we have done things differently? Probably," said Lt. Col. Dave Lamken. "But that's because we have more resources and more experience. But that doesn't mean they screwed up."
Jackson County Circuit Judge Bob Beaird said officers' first effort to get a search warrant for the couple's apartment after the May 17 interview was insufficient, and he approved it only after they had interviewed more witnesses.
Alumbaugh said Beaird's initial rejection proves his decision not to arrest the couple immediately was correct.
The Department of Corrections said Davis' parole officer repeatedly tried to reach Davis on May 18 to come in for a drug test and a polygraph test about the Spicer killing. But by then the couple had fled. By that afternoon, the parole officer had worked with police to issue an arrest warrant for Davis for violating his parole.
Alumbaugh said his decision to let the couple leave on the 17th was based in part on previous exasperation with the Jackson County court system.
"We get them locked up out here and we would have gotten those two locked up," Alumbaugh said. "I'm very frustrated by this whole thing. It looks like a catch-and-release program in Jackson County."
Sanders said his office would have worked to ensure a normal bond was not set in the case.