Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Evidence tampering possible in Reimer case

Investigator allegedly involved 'romantically' with Reimerís niece

Express Staff Writer

The attempted-murder case against Deborah A. Reimer had to be dismissed earlier this year because Ketchum police couldn't guarantee that tampering hadn't occurred with key evidence needed for prosecution.

"We have no indication that it was tampered with, but we could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it wasn't," said Ketchum Police Chief Cory Lyman, following release of an Idaho Attorney General's Office report into evidence mishandling in the case.

The report, obtained Friday by the Idaho Mountain Express through a public records request, concluded that the evidence-handling errors were procedural in nature, but further alleged that the Ketchum lead detective in the Reimer investigation "had engaged in a romantic relationship with Deborah Reimer's niece."

The report says the Attorney General's Office found no evidence to suggest that the lead investigator mishandled evidence because of the relationship, but pointed out that the same detective "refused to answer any questions concerning his relationship" with the woman.

The lead investigator in the case was former Detective Ken Martinez, who resigned from the Ketchum Police Department in April.

Lyman, in an interview with the Express on Monday, declined to comment on whether Martinez was pressured into resigning.

An Associated Press story identified Reimer's niece as Bridgette Hollenbeck, who the Attorney General's Office report says lived in Claremore, Okla. The report states that Hollenbeck likely met Martinez when he interviewed her in January. The reason for the interview, or where it occurred, is not stated in the report.

An e-mail correspondence started between Martinez and Hollenbeck, the report states, which led to Hollenbeck's traveling to Idaho in February to stay with Martinez at his Ketchum residence.

The report further states that Hollenbeck told Attorney General's Office investigators that she never asked Martinez to "sabotage the criminal case against her aunt during the course of the investigation."

The second-degree attempted-murder case against Reimer was dismissed March 18 after evidence mishandling was brought to the attention of Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas. Reimer had been accused of firing two shots at her former boyfriend Bob Dreyer while he was taking a shower at his south Ketchum home on the morning of July 18, 2007.

Lyman said the evidence-handling errors occurred before Martinez became involved with Hollenbeck.

Evidence mishandling

Three pieces of evidence were mishandled in the Reimer case—the shower curtain from Dreyer's bathroom, a bullet fragment and a piece of bathroom tile with a bullet hole through it.

Lyman said the items were "collaborative evidence" to demonstrate in court that shots were fired in Dreyer's bathroom.

"We had a case that was relying solely on the evidence of eyewitnesses," Lyman said, adding that the evidence in question was vital to substantiate Dreyer's testimony.

The Attorney General's Office concluded that evidence mishandling was procedural in nature.

Lyman said the procedural problems wouldn't have met the standards required in court to demonstrate that the evidence hadn't been compromised.

There were three basic problems. One, the evidence was improperly packaged and tagged. Two, the evidence lacked "chain of custody" documentation to show who had handled it and where it had been. Three, the alarm on the Ketchum Police Department was deactivated on two occasions so that there was no record of who may have had access to the evidence.

The report found that deactivation first occurred on July 19, 2007, the day after the shooting, and was not reactivated until four days later. A second deactivation occurred from Aug. 2, 2007 through Aug. 10, 2007.

Corrective action

An outside audit was conducted of evidence in other Ketchum cases by Bellevue Marshal Ron Taylor following dismissal of the Reimer case.

Lyman said Taylor looked at "hundreds" of pieces of evidence for about 50 cases and found evidence problems in three of them. Charges were never filed in two of the cases and the evidence in the third case was deemed unnecessary for prosecution.

The errors in those three cases were also procedural in nature, having to do with documentation and packaging, Lyman said.

Since dismissal of the Reimer case, steps have been taken at the Ketchum Police Department to prevent other evidence-handling problems, including enhanced training for investigators, appointment of an "evidence technician" to oversee evidence handling and new security arrangements for evidence storage.

"Checks and balances are now in place to detect any errors if an officer fails to properly pack, label and document evidence," Lyman said. "We've done a lot of things so that if somebody does something wrong it gets caught.

"I think it's important to restore public trust and let the public know that it's not going to happen again."

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