published Friday, August 7th, 2009

Cadaver dogs out of Parker trial

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Prosecutors in Sam Parker's murder trial won't be able to use evidence based on cadaver dogs' response to a vehicle operated by his wife, Theresa Parker.

Superior Court Judge Jon "Bo" Wood granted the defense's motion less than two weeks before the trial is scheduled to start Aug. 17. A former LaFayette, Ga., police sergeant, Mr. Parker is charged with murdering his wife as well as three other felonies.

Judge Wood excluded evidence that trained dogs reacted to certain spots on Mrs. Parker's car in a way their handlers said indicated they detected odors of human decomposition.

But according to court records, the judge will allow testimony from two officers about an exterior search of the Parker home March 22, 2007. Rhonda Knox, a co-worker at the Walker 911 dispatch office, called to ask authorities to check on Mrs. Parker, who had last been seen the day before.

Mrs. Parker's body has not been found.

Public defender David Dunn filed motions involving both pieces of evidence in pretrial hearings.

"My contention is the officers went well beyond what they were authorized to do," Mr. Dunn said in the July 15 court hearing.

But Assistant District Attorney Natalee Staats said during the same appearance that the officers acted appropriately.

"(Ms. Knox) has every reason to be concerned," she said. "Her friend had expressed fear, and now she can't reach her."

Mike McCarthy, public defender for the Conasauga Judicial Circuit, said such pretrial motions are common and help determine what evidence a jury will hear. That helps them prepare their trial strategy, Mr. McCarthy said.

"It can certainly hurt if a judge allows something that you think shouldn't be allowed," Mr. McCarthy said.

But, he said, some decisions can be useful for potential appeals if necessary.

Prosecutor Leigh Patterson could not be reached for comment Thursday. Mr. Dunn said he could not comment on an active case.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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