AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin woman accused of shooting and killing a professional cyclist, Moriah Wilson, in an east Austin home last May appeared in court for the second day of a pre-trial hearing that began last Wednesday.
Police said Kaitlin Armstrong, 34, shot Wilson in May and left the country shortly after the incident. Authorities spent 43 days searching for Armstrong, who they believed was connected to the deadly shooting.
Armstrong’s defense team filed a Frank’s Motion – a legal proceeding when a court is asked to determine whether a police officer or detective lied or used reckless disregard for the truth in pursuing an arrest warrant.
Last Wednesday, the defense team and Texas state attorneys cross-examined two detectives involved in Wilson’s murder investigation — including, Richard Spitler, the author of the arrest warrant affidavit, and the lead homicide detective on Wilson’s murder case. Katy Conner, another homicide detective who assisted Spitler, was also questioned.
Douglas Deaton was the witness to testify Monday. Armstrong’s defense team hired him to review the probable cause arrest warrant. His testimony concluded this pre-trial hearing.
“Overall, my opinion was that it was completely unnecessary, wasn’t written accurately and was a borderline character assassination (of Armstrong),” Deaton testified.
District Judge Brenda Kennedy will announce Nov. 9 if the defense was successful in convincing the court that Spitler used reckless disregard for the truth in writing the arrest warrant affidavit. If they were, some of the evidence, including the video of the initial interview between Conner and Armstrong, will be cast aside.
Deaton is a retired lieutenant with the Plano Police Department. He worked in law enforcement for 26 years and testified he has a great deal of experience writing and reviewing probable cause affidavits.
Deaton raised multiple concerns about how the affidavit was produced – such as how the detectives obtained evidence, factual errors included in the report and the written language of the document, Deaton explained.
Deaton felt some of the errors in the report were due to Conner and Spitler’s inexperience in homicide investigations, he said. This was the first probable cause affidavit for a murder detective Spitler wrote and his first time as a lead detective on a murder investigation. Detective Conner was also new as a detective in the homicide division. She has been with APD for 11 years and used to work as a detective in a different division.
“I believe the leadership of APD failed these detectives,” Deaton said. “It’s astounding to me a homicide of this magnitude would be assigned to a detective on their first lead case.”
Last week, Detective Conner testified about her approach to interviewing Armstrong when APD brought her into the station for a previous misdemeanor offense – a theft of service charge from a couple of years prior.
A couple of minutes into questioning, an officer informed Conner there was an issue with the date on the misdemeanor warrant (it was later revealed in court there was actually no error and the warrant was “good”). Because Conner thought the warrant was no longer viable, Armstrong was free to leave the building.
Armstrong’s defense argued Conner detained Armstrong and didn’t allow Armstrong to leave after the warrant didn’t hold. Further, they asserted Conner did not comply with Armstrong’s request for an attorney.
State attorneys conversely argued Conner was within her right as a detective to ask about Armstrong’s connection to Wilson. Also, Conner informed Armstrong she was free to leave five times.
In regards to attorney requests, Conner said Armstrong was not unequivocal in the way she asked for representations, which state attorneys argued is a proper method in these types of interviews.
“(The interview) was inappropriate and unconstitutional the way it was conducted,” Deaton said when questioned by the defense. “(It) was not within best practices,” he continued.
Deaton testified he reviewed the 10-minute tape of Conner interviewing Armstrong over 20 times. He felt she did not do enough to explain why APD arrested Armstrong.
Further, “once a suspect says ‘I feel like I should have an attorney present,’ the interview should have been stopped at the second mention,” Deaton said. Armstrong used the words “I feel like I should have an attorney” during the conversation with Conner.
Prosecutor Guillermo Gonzalez acknowledged there were mistakes in the original probable cause affidavit but opined errors were not a reckless disregard for the truth.
“A detective is going to be expected to make a judgment call and live with it,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also pushed back on the notion the detectives on the Wilson investigation were too inexperienced to be working on the case. He also pointed out both detectives had experience in other divisions prior to working in homicide investigations.
Find some of KXAN’s previous reporting on the case here:
- ‘I really wanted to kill her.’ Anonymous phone calls from tipsters who knew Armstrong played in court
- Austin woman charged with murder in cyclist’s death appears in court
- Kaitlin Armstrong attorneys accuse Austin police of violating legal rights in murder case
- Kaitlin Armstrong pleads not guilty; attorneys request speedy trial
- Slain cyclist Moriah Wilson, 25, ‘exceptional in every way’
- As federal agents search for Austin murder suspect, #RideLikeMo starts in honor of victim
- Family of slain cyclist clears up details of alleged romantic relationship
- Murder suspect flew out of Austin to New York days after cyclist’s death
- Suspect in cyclist’s murder dropped off at New Jersey airport, US Marshals say
- Kaitlin Armstrong captured in Costa Rica, records show bail set at $3.5 million
- Kaitlin Armstrong now in Austin from Houston jail
- How Austin murder suspect Kaitlin Armstrong tried to hide from authorities
“A one-year homicide detective in Austin is different than a homicide work-load in Plano,” he said.
A timeline of the case can be found here.