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State v. Muhammad

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

June 7, 2018

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
BISIR BILAL MUHAMMAD, Appellant.

          Fearing, J.

         Appellant Bisir Muhammad challenges the validity of the stop of his car, the search of his car, and the gathering of other evidence. He also challenges his convictions for first degree murder and first degree rape on the basis of double jeopardy and merger. We reject Muhammad's challenges and affirm his convictions.

         FACTS

         This appeal lies from the callous murder of Ina Clare Richardson, a petite 102-pound, 69-year-old woman. A jury convicted Bisir Muhammad of the homicide. Because issues on appeal concern a motion to suppress evidence and trial evidence, we alternate between facts presented at the suppression hearing and the trial.

         We begin with some trial testimony. Victim Ina Richardson suffered from bipolar disorder. During her manic phases, Richardson openly trusted others. On the night or morning of November 6-7, 2014, someone beat, raped, and strangled Richardson to death.

         On November 7, a couple on a morning walk discovered Ina Richardson's naked corpse discarded along the side of an access road to a park in Clarkston. The unidentified Richardson bore bruises, scrapes, and cuts throughout her body and swollen lips. Her body bore defensive wounds indicating Richardson had struggled with her attacker. One of Richardson's pinkie nails was torn off. Richardson bled from her vagina and carried bruises on her thighs and genitalia. Since Richardson's feet remained remarkably clean, law enforcement officers suspected her killer slayed her elsewhere and transported the corpus to the dump site.

         After the media broadcasted a description of the unidentified body, Ina Richardson's friend, Jeff Smith, told law enforcement that he suspected Richardson to be the deceased person. Smith explained that he encountered Richardson at the Clarkston Albertsons on the night of November 6 and that Richardson then sought a ride home from the store. Smith could not help Richardson because he rode a bicycle. Richardson unsuccessfully asked others to provide a ride.

         Based on Jeff Smith's tip, law enforcement procured and reviewed security camera footage from an Albertsons grocery store, a Costco store, a Walmart store, and a McDonald's restaurant and spoke to workers at the business establishments. The businesses surrounded one another. The various security cameras activated on movement and deactivated without movement. Law enforcement constructed a timeline of Ina Richardson's last night alive using the footage.

         Walmart videotape showed a distinctive car leaving the nearby Quality Inn and parking in the Walmart parking lot for approximately one-half an hour. Bisir Muhammad worked that evening at the Quality Inn. The older, boxy, maroon American model car exhibited a discolored front driver's side rim, a chrome strip, and a light on the side between the front and rear doors.

         An Albertsons inside store camera depicted Ina Richardson shopping for one hour and ten minutes. Video from the Albertsons outside security camera showed Richardson leaving the store at 11:06 p.m. and walking southeast through the parking lot toward a ubiquitous McDonald's restaurant. The video shows the distinctive car parked in the southeast end of the parking lot near the McDonald's for a considerable time before Richardson approached, with no one entering or emerging from the car. The camera stopped recording as Richardson walked into the darkness.

         The Albertsons video next displays the activation of the headlights of the distinctive car. Seven minutes later the car traveled west through the parking lot. Video from a nearby Costco surveillance camera then showed the same vehicle moving with two people inside. The car drove on to an access road behind the Quality Inn and parked in a service entrance area behind the hotel. Law enforcement later found a condom wrapper in this secluded location. At 12:37 a.m., video showed the car leaving the vicinity. Richardson was never again seen alive.

         An autopsy confirmed that someone sexually assaulted and strangled Ina Richardson. The autopsy also verified injuries to Richardson's scalp, face, lips, arms, forearms, hands, thighs, knees, legs, right buttock, and left groin region. Finally, the autopsy showed a large laceration in Richardson's vaginal canal that evidenced a blunt object being forced into the vagina and tearing tissue inside.

         Swabs of Richardson's vagina later yielded a small amount of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) consistent with Bisir Muhammad's DNA profile. Forensic scientist Anna Wilson testified at trial that use of a condom would explain the limited amount of DNA to test. DNA retrieved from under Richardson's fingernails also matched Muhammad's DNA.

         Because video last pictured Ina Richardson walking toward the distinctive maroon car that soon left the parking lot, law enforcement studied the features of the video in hopes of locating the motor vehicle. On November 10, three days after the discovery of Richardson's body, Clarkston Police Officer Darrin Boyd espied the car driving on a city street. Officer Boyd read the vehicle's license plate number and stopped the maroon car to identify the driver and registered owner of the car. Both were Bisir Muhammad.

         We now turn to the content of police records filed in response to the motion to suppress. During the investigating stop, Officer Darrin Boyd told Bisir Muhammad of a crime that occurred in the Albertsons parking lot on November 6 and of a car matching Muhammad's car being in the lot. Officer Boyd asked Muhammad whether he parked in the parking lot that night, and Muhammad said no. Muhammad commented that, to his recollection, he drove directly home after finishing his work shift at the Quality Inn that night. Muhammad asked Boyd what crime occurred, and Boyd responded by inquiring of Muhammad if he read the paper. Muhammad answered no. Muhammad asked Boyd if someone robbed McDonalds, and Boyd again answered in the negative. To our knowledge, Boyd did not disclose the nature of the crime. Boyd gained Muhammad's phone number from Muhammad. Officer Boyd thanked Muhammad for his time, apologized for any inconvenience, and released him.

         After questioning Bisir Muhammad, Officer Darin Boyd informed others at the Clarkston Police Department that he located the distinctive car depicted in the video footage. Sergeant Richard Muszynski reviewed records and learned that Muhammad was a registered sex offender. Muszynski also noted a prior rape conviction from Arkansas for Muhammad under the alias "Billy Joe Dallas." Clerk's Papers at 414, 475.

         Still on November 10, Sergeant Richard Muszynski directed Officer Darrin Boyd to surveil Bisir Muhammad and Muhammad's vehicle. Officer Boyd viewed Muhammad retrieve a woman from his apartment residence, drive to Walmart, enter the store, and return to his home. Muhammad parked the maroon car at the rear of the apartment. For some unknown reason, Boyd abandoned his surveillance. When Boyd returned to the Muhammad apartment building, Boyd noticed the car missing.

         Still on November 10, while Officer Darrin Boyd tailed Muhammad, Sergeant Richard Muszynski procured a warrant to search the maroon car. Police could not thereafter locate the car.

         Officer Darrin Boyd grew concerned that Bisir Muhammad might flee, destroy evidence, or endanger someone else's safety. Officer Boyd asked police dispatch to request AT&T, Muhammad's cell phone carrier, to "ping" Muhammad's phone. The onomatopoeic term "ping" references the sending of a signal to identify the current location of a cell phone. The phone carrier can discern the location through cell-site locations, truncated as cell-site location (CSL) or cell-site location information (CSLI), or by tracking satellite-based global positioning system data (GPS). The carrier detects a general, not specified, area of the phone by CSL when the cell phone connects with a cell tower in order to initiate or receive a call. GPS data reveals the exact location of the phone by revealing the phone's latitude and longitude coordinates regardless of a pending call.

         We now return to more trial testimony. On November 10, Bisir Muhammad's cell phone carrier used a CSL ping and discovered Muhammad's presence in the vicinity of several Lewiston, Idaho, orchards. Lewiston police officers accompanied Clarkston officers in searching the region and locating Muhammad and his car. At the orchards, Sergeant Richard Muszynski advised Muhammad that he held a search warrant for the maroon car and asked if Muhammad would speak to officers at the Clarkston police station. Muhammad agreed, and officers seized his car pursuant to the warrant. While in the orchards, officers also seized Muhammad's cell phone without a warrant. After traveling to Clarkston, officers advised Muhammad of his constitutional rights. Muhammad signed a form that waived his rights and consented to speak with the officers.

         During the beginning of the Clarkston Police Department interview, Bisir Muhammad claimed again that he drove directly home after his shift washing dishes at the Quality Inn on November 6. Muhammad also stated he would have been home by 10:25 p.m. Of course, law enforcement had already viewed videos that contradicted Muhammad's statement. When confronted that a video showed him parked in the Walmart parking lot, Muhammad first responded that he did not remember going to Walmart and had no reason to shop there. Muhammad next declared that he entered Walmart to cash a paycheck, but the store refused to cash the check. Officers then disclosed that the Walmart security video depicted Muhammad sitting in his car in the parking lot for thirty minutes and never emerging from the car. Muhammad again changed his story and asserted that he saw his friend Mike Delameter at a nearby Motel 6. When officers told Muhammad that a video pictured Ina Richardson walking toward his car that night, he stated he visited with Delameter in the motel at that time. Officers later approached Delameter, who denied seeing Muhammad that night.

         During the November 10 interview at the Clarkston Police Department station, Bisir Muhammad also told officers that he worked at the Clarkston Albertsons for two months, ending two weeks before November 6, 2014. The officers showed Muhammad a picture of Ina Richardson and asked if he knew her from her shopping at Albertsons. Muhammad recognized Richardson but maintained that he only spoke to her once in a large group setting. Nevertheless, Albertsons security camera footage from inside the store showed Muhammad and Richardson talking alone together on two occasions. In one of the videos, taken one week before her rape and murder, Richardson appears to rebuff an attempted kiss from Muhammad.

         During the November 10 interview, Bisir Muhammad repeatedly denied participation in Ina Richardson's disappearance and death and refused to donate a DNA sample. Muhammad finally exercised his right to counsel and left the interview.

         On searching Bisir Muhammad's maroon car, officers found, in the trunk, latex gloves, personal lubricant, pornographic digital video disks, and a box of condoms bearing the same lot number as the condom wrapper found in the secluded area where Muhammad had parked for an hour after leaving the Albertsons parking lot. Albertsons clerk Vickie Hollahan testified at trial that Muhammad informed her that he and his wife, who is disabled, do not have sex. Law enforcement tested blood stains on the front passenger seat and headrest and confirmed the fluid as Ina Richardson's blood.

         Officers also garnered a warrant to search Bisir Muhammad's cell phone and to gather Muhammad's phone records from AT&T. The phone records undermine Muhammad's claim that he arrived home on November 6 by 10:25 p.m. The records confirm phone calls between Muhammad and his wife beginning at 12:17 a.m. on November 7, 2014, an hour after his car left the Albertsons parking lot. AT&T CSL data confirmed that Muhammad's phone remained stationary during the time his car was parked behind the Quality Inn. After 12:30 a.m., his phone used other cell phone towers, indicating Muhammad traveled. At one time, Muhammad's phone used a cell tower with an unobstructed line of sight to the location where the walkers found Ina Richardson's body.

         Police arrested Bisir Muhammad on November 13, 2014. The local newspaper reported the arrest on the front page of the November 13 edition. At 4:50 a.m., on November 14, Muhammad's wife, Detra, called her insurance agent Vicki DeRoche. Detra hysterically wept and told DeRoche that she worried Muhammad had acted awfully. Detra explained that Muhammad came home late on the night of the murder without explanation, that blood spotted his clothes, and that he discarded a used condom while claiming the condom was a latex glove he used to help an injured coworker.

         PROCEDURE

         The State of Washington charged Bisir Muhammad with murder in the first degree and rape in the first degree. The State pled first degree murder under the felony murder provisions of RCW 9A.32.030(1)(c) based on Muhammad committing the homicide in the furtherance of the rape.

         Bisir Muhammad moved to suppress all physical evidence obtained during the law enforcement investigation of his case and identification and location information derived from the warrantless ping. Muhammad also sought suppression of his prearrest statements, including statements made to Officer Darrin Boyd during the car stop. Muhammad argued that Officer Boyd conducted an unlawful stop and that law enforcement improperly gained all search warrants based on information gathered during that stop. Muhammad also argued that officers lacked authority to seize his car in Idaho based on a Washington warrant and that the cell phone ping used to locate Muhammad qualified as an unlawful search. The trial court found that, even if the ping constituted a search, exigent circumstances justified immediate police action to direct the ping. The trial court denied the suppression motion. The court issued an order denying suppression, but entered no formal findings of fact.

         After a trial, the jury found Bisir Muhammad guilty of both charges. The jury also found the facts sufficient to support the presence of aggravating circumstances, because of Ina Richardson's vulnerability. The trial court imposed a term of 548 months' confinement for the murder and an indeterminate sentence of 318 months' confinement to life for the rape. Due to the jury's finding of aggravating circumstances, the court ordered, as an exceptional sentence, that the two sentences be served consecutively instead of concurrently. The total term amounts to at least 866 months. The trial court ...


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