William Morse FILE PHOTO

Prosecutor rebuts motion in Trenton murder case

ELLSWORTH — The prosecutor in the case of a man accused of killing a Trenton accountant and assuming his identity is asking the court to deny a defense motion to suppress evidence.

Assistant attorney general Donald Macomber made that request in a March 16 response to a memorandum to support the motion to suppress evidence filed by the attorneys for William Morse.

Morse, 45, of Otis and Fishkill, N.Y. is accused of murdering 61-year-old Richard Bellittieri. Bellittieri’s skeletal remains were found in July 2013 behind a home he owned on the Goose Cove Road in Trenton.

In February in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court, Morse’s attorneys Jeffrey Toothaker and David Bate argued in support of their motion to suppress. Those arguments were reiterated in their memorandum filed with the court on March 10.

In Macomber’s response to that memorandum, he defends the actions of police during both the initial vehicle stop of Morse by Bar Harbor police and of state police and drug agents in the days leading to Morse’s Aug. 1, 2013 arrest on a murder charge.

Bar Harbor police arrested Morse on July 10, 2013 on charges of operating while under the influence, refusing to submit to arrest and refusing to produce identification as the result of a traffic stop where the vehicle, which was registered to Bellittieri, was searched and a driver’s license, credit cards, a Social Security card, birth certificates and other documents belonging to the Trenton man were seized.

Morse’s attorneys argue that this evidence should be suppressed because there was no probable cause for police to search the vehicle. Macomber cites several reasons why this evidence should be allowed.

Despite the claims of the defense, the search of the vehicle was initiated only after identification belonging to Bellittieri was found on Morse’s person, thereby justifying an “automobile exception” search, Macomber argues. In addition, marijuana found during the search justified this exception. Furthermore, Morse fails to establish his standing in challenging the search of the car’s trunk.

After his arrest by Bar Harbor police, a search was begun to find Bellittieri to determine if Morse had permission to operate the vehicle. When attempts to locate the Trenton man came up empty, state police detectives were called in to investigate.

As part of their investigation, detectives went to Bellittieri’s Trenton home. Believing no one was present, police went inside to secure the premises while a search warrant was obtained. There they found Morse hiding under a pile of clothes in a bedroom closet. One of the detectives interviewed Morse, and he was allowed to leave.

Morse’s attorneys argue that any evidence collected on the property before the search warrant was issued should be suppressed, as well as any statements Morse made to police on July 25 and July 29, 2013.

Macomber asserts that police decided to conduct a “protective sweep” of the home without a warrant to protect the safety of state troopers who were to be stationed at the home until the warrant was obtained. This action was necessitated by the fact detectives had reason to believe someone might be inside the home despite no one coming to the door or otherwise making their presence known.

“Since the police had probable cause to search at that point, the police reasonably entered the building to ensure that no one inside would either harm the officers or destroy evidence,” Macomber states.

The defense further claims that Morse had standing to challenge the protective sweep because he had “valuable property” in the home. Macomber argues that this claim ignores the fact that Morse himself told police that he was not living at the home but was on the premises to pick up some tools.

The day Morse was found hiding, he consented to an interview with a state police detective. He was not taken into custody. Macomber dismisses defense claims that these remarks were not voluntary because the interview was conducted as the result of the illegal search of the home. In addition, Macomber states, the defense has made no argument for the suppression of remarks Morse made four days later, on July 29, 2013.

Morse’s attorneys also claim their client was deprived of his sixth amendment right to counsel during the police interviews. That right applies only after a suspect is charged with a crime. In this case, Macomber states, Morse was not charged with murder until after the date of these interviews.

Macomber argues that even if the court were to suppress the evidence that Toothaker and Bate claim is “tainted,” there would still be enough probable cause to justify the issuance of a search warrant.

The matter is before a judge with no deadline for a decision.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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