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(Blehm, now a property crimes investigator, is on leave. He did not respond to messages left by The Pitch.)
"Safe to say then, Mr. Wates," Lee's public defender, Molly Hastings, said in cross-examination, "the statement you ended up giving to the police at the end of the two and a half hours you were there was not exactly the same statement you gave when you walked in and started talking at the beginning?"
"Correct," Wates said.
No fingerprints, no DNA match, no positive ID by victims or eyewitnesses, and a 30- to 45-minute window between when the car chase ended and the time of Lee's arrest — these are the makings of reasonable doubt. Lee's odds of escaping his third murder charge were looking strong by the time Detective Danny Phillips took the stand on the final day of trial.
A 15-year veteran of the department, Phillips' only role in the case was taking a DNA swab from Lee's cheek at the county jail. His testimony should have been brief and uneventful. But court transcripts show where the state's case derailed.
"All right," Hastings said. "This was just collecting the DNA sample from him several days after this particular incident we're talking about?"
"Right," Phillips said. Then he inexplicably blurted, "I knew him prior."
Circuit Court Judge Robert Schieber, who had specifically barred witnesses from talking about Lee's history with police, threw his glasses on the desk in front of him. "Did he just say ..."
"He said he knew of my client prior to this," Hastings said.
"Why in the world?" Schieber said.
He declared a mistrial. A few weeks later, with Lee facing a retrial, his attorney, Hastings, asked the judge to dismiss the charges altogether, arguing that it would be double jeopardy to make him stand trial again for the same crime. A short hearing on the motion took place five days before the trial was scheduled to start.
"I have no doubt in my mind that Detective Phillips' conduct was intentional," Schieber said. The veteran detective threw the case on purpose, Schieber said, because a mistrial would allow the state more time to beef up its case. (Phillips wouldn't comment, but a KCPD spokesman told The Pitch that the detective's comment on the stand was accidental.)
Schieber had reason to believe that the trial's outcome would have gone in Lee's favor. The judge explained that he had talked with the jurors before dismissing them, and he found that all 15 (12, plus three alternates) would have voted to acquit Lee. The judge decided to dismiss the charges with prejudice, barring the state from refiling its case against Lee. The state is appealing Schieber's decision, and a ruling is expected at the end of the month. If the appellate courts side with prosecutors, then Lee can be charged again.
With more charges still possible, Lee won't discuss the case. But since the mistrial, he says, the police presence on his block has been stifling.
He tangled with "the pigs," as he calls them, once already this year. According to news reports, at 3:30 a.m. on a Sunday in July, officers heard gunshots in the area of 33rd and Prospect. Soon after, they tried to pull over a car near 30th and Lister, but the driver hit the gas. Police punctured the car's tires, but the car kept going, running a red light at 60 miles per hour. When the driver finally stopped, police pulled Lee from the driver's seat. No weapons were found in the vehicle. Lee is awaiting trial on charges of eluding police.