Apr 19, 2016

Hearing examines suppression of evidence for Word of Life Church defendant

Micaela Parker 
April 18, 2016

A defendant in the Word of Life Christian Church case appeared in Oneida County Court Monday for a hearing to examine how physical evidence and statements were taken from him.

Daniel Irwin, 24, is one of nine people accused of varying degrees of involvement in a 14-hour October counseling session at the Chadwicks church that involved beating 19-year-old Lucas Leonard, who died of his injuries, and 17-year-old Christopher Leonard, who was injured seriously. Of those defendants, one has accepted a plea offer. 

The hearing centered around how law enforcement obtained Irwin's cell phone and how an interview was conducted with Irwin hours after the fatal beating. Five members of the New Hartford Police Department and New York State Police were called in to testify, but because one additional officer was unable to make Monday's hearing the matter was adjourned until Thursday, April 28. 

State police Investigator Christopher Landgren testified that he and Investigator Michael Mierek transported Irwin from the New Hartford Police Department to the state police barracks in Marcy because there wasn't enough room to interview him. Irwin, who was not yet charged, already had his cell phone taken from him by officers and given to the investigators. 

Irwin was eventually interviewed twice by the investigators. At no time during the interview did Irwin request an attorney or indicate he didn't want to speak to officers, Landgren testified.

“We wanted to interview him further to see if there was any physical contact that he might have done so onto others that we hadn't covered initially,” Landgren said. 

Unlike the first interview, the second interview took place in a room that had recording devices. Landgren, who was stationed at the Herkimer barracks, testified that he would have interviewed Irwin in that room from the start, but wasn't aware it existed. 

It was during the second interview that Irwin signed a voluntary consent to search form for his cell phone. The phone was turned over by state police and its contents were not examined in any way until a search warrant was issued in that case, according to New Hartford Police Investigator Brad Pietryka. 

Pietryka, who is the lead investigator in the case, said the phone was ultimately sent to the state police lab for forensic testing in November. 


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