Crime

Durham judge rules warrants invalid in dog-leash murder case. Evidence to be tossed.

A judge found a majority of search warrants invalid and ruled that potential evidence gained from them must be thrown out in the police investigation into whether a Durham teen killed his wealthy father.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson ruled Monday in favor of Alexander Bishop’s motion contending that warrants were inaccurate and misleading.

“Quite frankly I believe the that the defendant has met his burden of proof,” Hudson said. “He has met every single one of the allegations that he has made. I think the evidence shows that the investigator either was untruthful or shows a reckless disregard for the truth.”

Alexander Bishop’s attorney, Allyn Sharp, had argued that lead police investigator Tony Huelsman had used false and misleading statements in seeking the warrants when he indicated there was $460,000 in missing gold and that he believed Alexander Bishop and his mother had taken it.

The documents that Huelsman had cited, Sharp said, actually showed that Alexander’s father, Bill Bishop, had sold the gold to a dealer in Florida more than a year before his death in April 2018.

Huelsman said he misread the document.

Huelsman and about 15 of his search warrant applications were at the center of the hearing. The search warrants successfully sought access to the family’s home, phones, computers and bank records.

Sharp described Huelsman’s search warrants as a “fishing expedition,” however, Assistant District Attorney Beth Hopkins Thomas used the same phrase to describe Sharp’s motions challenging them.

“She has gotten into an incredibly small arguments about semantics in the majority of this motion,” Hopkins Thomas said. “It is reckless in my humble opinion that she would even bring this motion challenging the veracity of this investigator.”

According to local attorneys interviewed, Sharp had to prove Huelsman intentionally misled the court or had a reckless disregard for the truth.

These types of motions “are rare for that reason, because the burden (of proof) is so high,” said longtime attorney Lisa Williams

Search warrants

Huelsman, who has worked for the Durham Police Department for over 13 years, said he first learned about the gold May 2 after police searched Bill Bishop’s home.

Bishop’s then 16-year-old son, Alexander, told police on April 18, 2018, that he’d found his dad unresponsive with a dog leash around his neck and the dog still attached.

EMS officials helped Bill Bishop regain a pulse, and he was taken to the hospital, where he died three days later.

Police and EMS officials questioned Alexander Bishop about what happened, and Huelsman opened a homicide investigation three days later, after a Durham lieutenant got a call from the Duke University Hospital official relaying concerns about a suspicious death.

Initially, a Duke doctor ruled the death as natural, according to testimony, but a medical examiner later ruled it to be a homicide and death by strangulation.

Since the teen wasn’t charged until February 2019, the public first learned about the police investigation through Huelsman’s search warrant applications, the most the investigator has ever sought for a case.

Missing gold?

Huelsman testified he was wrong about more than $460,000 in gold bars he indicated was missing.

“I found out I was incorrect after the arrest of Alexander Bishop,” Huelsman testified last week..

Huelsman said in the search warrants that he based the information about the gold on “financial paperwork” and a “purchase order” for the bars, the warrants state.

The gold became relevant, Huelsman testified, after they searched Alexander Bishop’s phone and found a search history seeking the value of gold per ounce. The search occurred after Bill Bishop’s death.

During a search of Bishop’s home, police found 10 invoices for gold and one purchase order, he said. Initially, Huelsman believed Bill Bishop was buying from a gold supplier in Florida.

“I had assumed that the purchase order was for the purchase of the 10 invoices,” he said. “I believed that because they had the same value or amount of gold.”

Huelsman had also received a text from Bill Bishop’s girlfriend, Julie Seel, saying there would be at least $50,000 worth of gold in a safe, he said.

Huelsman realized he was incorrect about the initial document after Alexander Bishop was arrested and charged Feb. 18, when they searched his mother’s house and found another gold invoice, he said.

Huelsman then reached out to the Florida gold supplier and learned that Bill Bishop had purchased the gold bars from the gold supplier and sold them back to the dealer, he said.

During the conversation, however, Huelsman said he learned about an additional 50 ounces of gold that Bill Bishop had purchased.

“Have you been able to determine where that additional 50 ounces of gold went?” Hopkins Thomas asked.

“No, it is still missing,” Huelsman said.

Son’s statements

Testimony last week also related to Sharp’s contention that Huelsman misrepresented what Alexander Bishop told emergency officials after his father was found unresponsive.

“Investigator Huelsman has been picking and choosing what supports his claims, while leaving out the investigative work he has done that has proven those claims to be false,” Sharp said in court.

In one search warrant, Huelsman wrote, “Alexander told officer on the scene that he felt relieved that his father was gone, explaining he had been abused his entire life.”

Body camera footage shows Alexander Bishop instead asked “How should I be feeling right now,” Sharp argued, and “I’m afraid of what happens if he comes back. He’s gonna be mad at me for leaving the leash on the dog.”

Huelsman said he based his warrant application on a police officer’s written report and that he wasn’t concerned it differed from what was on body camera footage because the footage didn’t capture everything.

After nearly five hours Wednesday, the judge ruled Alexander Bishop’s statements to police could be used as evidence.

Sharp had argued police had improperly interviewed him without informing him of his right to an attorney or to have a parent present.

The prosecutor successfully argued that officers had followed standard procedures to secure the scene and speak to the only witness available about what happened.

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Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.
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