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Home surveillance video trips up murder defendant

Scott Pattison told police that he came home from work and found his wife with a weight bar pinned across her throat. His account of his wife’s tragic death may have held up except for the fact that he had forgotten that he had equipped his home with a surveillance system.

At 12:14 p.m. on July 2, 2009, Pattison called 911 to report that his wife, Lisa Pattison, wasn’t breathing and that he was driving her to the hospital in Marion, Indiana. Pattison requested a police escort and a few minutes later an ambulance and a police officer intercepted Pattison’s truck en route. The ambulance took Lisa to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Pattison, who owned a roofing business, told police that he had come home at 11:30 a.m., entered the house at 11:45 a.m., and discovered Lisa in the exercise room.

According to Pattison, Lisa was lying on a weightlifting bench with the weight bar pinned across her throat. He administered CPR. When he was unable to revive his wife, he put her in his truck and headed for the hospital.

Pattison’s story sounded plausible, but Marion police had cause for suspicion because in 2001 the Wabash County Sheriff’s Department received a report that Pattison had asked a person to kill Lisa. That investigation went nowhere, but it was duly noted by Marion detectives.

On the day of Lisa’s death, detectives went to Pattison’s house to conduct a search. In the garage, the detectives noticed a surveillance system that was connected to cameras mounted outside the house. The recording device had a slot for a DVD, but there was no DVD in the machine.

Police felt that, without a DVD, they were out of luck. But several days later an employee of the company that had installed Pattison’s surveillance system called the detectives to inform them that the system recorded to an internal hard drive.

Figuring that they might be about to strike gold, detectives sought and obtained a search warrant for the surveillance system and seized the system from Pattison’s house. Sure enough, Pattison’s story unraveled when detectives got the chance to review the recording from July 2, 2009.

Pattison told police that he arrived home around 11:30 in the morning. However, the surveillance video showed that Pattison had returned home at 8:32 a.m. The cameras also recorded him entering and exiting the house and walking around outside of the house at 9:56 a.m., 10:03 a.m., 10:07 a.m., and 11:38 a.m.

Police dug up other evidence that would lead to Pattison’s indictment for murder, including evidence that his marriage was troubled and the fact that Lisa wasn’t known to use the weight bench on which her body was found.

But the surveillance video evidence was sure to be critical at trial, so Pattison’s lawyer went to work to keep it from getting before the jury. The main thrust of Pattison’s argument was that the search warrant for the surveillance equipment was not supported by probable cause.

The trial court rejected this argument and the jury convicted Pattison of murder after seeing the surveillance video.

Last week, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that, even though the affidavit supporting the search warrant included some stale information, there was enough valid information provided by detectives to establish probable cause.

Of course, there was the information uncovered by detectives that Pattison and Lisa were having marital problems to the point that Pattison had filed for divorce. Then there was the obvious fact that the camera surveillance system may have recorded footage outside of the Pattisons’ home on the day that Lisa died.

Most importantly, the affidavit supporting the application for the search warrant advised the court that an autopsy of Lisa revealed that her death may not have been an accident.

The coroner who performed the autopsy would later testify that Lisa’s neck injury was not consistent with the weight bar falling on her neck at a high rate of speed. Instead, it was his opinion that Lisa’s death was caused by asphyxiation due to compression of the weight on her neck.

In upholding Pattison’s murder conviction, the court of appeals concluded that “reasonable inferences drawn from the totality of the evidence indicate that there was a fair probability that evidence of murder would be found in the surveillance system, and the trial court had a reasonable basis to issue the search warrant. The admission of the surveillance system equipment and video into evidence did not violate the Fourth Amendment.” (Pattison v. Indiana)

– Pat Murphy

patrick.murphy@lawyersusaonline.com

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