Judge refuses last-minute request to throw out search warrant, evidence in murder trial

Ruling is another setback from murder defendant Christopher Strawn, defending himself at trial

Defendant Christopher Strawn suffered another setback in his murder trial Wednesday as Judge Philip Pallenberg denied his request to have three search warrants ruled invalid.


Strawn is accused of murdering 30-year-old Brandon Cook on Oct. 20, 2015 and is defending himself at trial.

On Wednesday, Strawn asked Pallenberg to throw out three search warrants (and by extension the evidence garnered from those warrants). The warrants were for Strawn’s truck, his home, and for evidence collected from his body.

“I believe the search warrant should be found invalid,” Strawn told Pallenberg after the jury had been escorted from the room.

This is Strawn’s second murder trial. Strawn went in front of a jury in February, but that case ended with a mistrial after a witness mentioned the topic of domestic violence, something Pallenberg had specifically forbidden.

At that time, Strawn was being defended by public attorney Yvette Soutiere. Before the February trial, Soutiere sought to have the search warrants thrown out as well. In a September 2016 hearing, she contended that the state did not adequately record the evidence that caused Judge Keith Levy to issue the warrants.

Ultimately, Pallenberg ruled that although an audio recording system failed to function as intended, Levy’s handwritten notes and other documentation were enough to meet recording standards.

This week, Strawn said he wanted Soutiere to press the issue further and appeal Pallenberg’s ruling to the state court of appeals. There was a 10-day window to do so, but Soutiere didn’t appeal.

Strawn said Wednesday that disagreement over the warrants was one reason he decided to defend himself in the second trial.

“Part of the reason I’m here today is that my prior counsel did not see eye to eye on a lot of things,” Strawn said.

Strawn had previously requested to delay his second trial, and on Wednesday he said the reason for those requests was to allow him to build a case to rule out the search warrants.

Pallenberg replied that Strawn never said as much.

“Today is the first I’ve heard that this issue is something defense is intending to pursue in this court,” he said.

With the window of appeals long closed and Strawn having no new evidence on the matter, Pallenberg let the warrants (and evidence) stand.

“I have no reason to think I ruled incorrectly,” Pallenberg said. “I’m not going to reverse that ruling at this point.”

Aside from the debate on the search warrants, Wednesday’s trial brought a string of prosecution witnesses, mostly police. More officers are expected to testify Thursday.

A key component of Strawn’s defense strategy appears to be the theory that police focused on him as a suspect, to the exclusion of other suspects. Strawn did not outline his defense strategy with an opening statement.

If that is Strawn’s strategy, Assistant District Attorney Amy Paige appears to be preemptively attacking it by calling a string of police officer to outline their investigation.

Despite repeated searches, no murder weapon has been found.

Paige is expected to continue presenting her case through Tuesday, and Strawn will have a chance to present the defense’s case afterward.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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