NHMTA Case Briefs

People v. Maia (2015)


People v. Maia is a first-degree murder case concerning the deaths of rising actress Helen Istra, her director-producer husband, Theo Istra, and their unborn child. Helen was found unconscious at the Istra’s Silver Hills estate of Greymount Manor on February 3, 2011, the night of a party celebrating the Osmond nomination of her newest film. The recently pregnant actress was declared dead at the hospital. Theo Istra removed himself from the public eye following his wife’s death; on May 28, 2011, he was found dead at his desk by O. Maia, Helen’s older sibling who moved into Greymount after the Istra’s marriage.

Maia filled several roles prior to Helen’s death, acting as Helen’s publicist, manager, and guardian since the two were orphaned by a car accident, and was the sole beneficiary of the Istra fortune. The investigation into the Istra deaths–closed after inconclusive autopsy results–was reopened after the Maia family lawyer persuaded police to test Helen’s hair for toxins. On February 23, 2014, Maia was arrested for the murders by poisoning of the Istras and their unborn child.

The pretrial issue centers on the Fourth Amendment. In 2010, a fan obsessed with Helen, F. Batta, was arrested after breaking into Greymount. Following Batta’s interaction with police, Batta returned to Greymount and found a syringe in the trash. The pretrial question is whether Batta acted as an agent of the police when recovering the syringe. The defense may argue that based on the police interaction with Batta prior to the search, the Fourth Amendment applies to Batta’s actions. The prosecution may argue that the police interaction cannot be reasonably construed as a direction to conduct a search; even if it could, the police could not reasonably foresee that Batta would conduct such a search.

People v. Chatham (2014)

People vs. Chatham: A Terrorism and Conspiracy to Commit Terrorism Case Featuring a Sixth Amendment Pretrial Question (2014)People v. Chatham concerns the circumstances of the massive explosion at CrevCor Industries headquarters on August 28, 2013. The Heartbreak Lake fire and police departments, as well as the fire department from the nearby town of Port William, responded and were able to subdue the fire before it spread to the woodlands surrounding the lake and the many luxury vacation homes and cabins in the area. The source of the explosion and the initial source of fuel for the ensuing fire were quickly determined to be the rupture of a high-pressure natural gas mainline running through the building. The investigation was conducted by the FBI.

Prior to the explosion, T. Chatham was the owner and main contributor to the popular blog, “The Outraged Eater.” Before the explosion at the CrevCor headquarters, “The Outraged Eater” was at the height of its popularity with over 24,000 registered users and approximately 76,000 unique hits per day and was dedicated to criticism of CrevCor Industries. T. Chatham and Jayber Crow, a user on the site, were identified as suspects. When the arrest warrant was executed, Mr. Crow was found to be at a Gemina hospice in the final stages of pancreatic cancer. Because of his serious condition, Mr. Crow was permitted to remain in hospice care under electronic monitoring. Over the course of the next several weeks, Agent Feltner interviewed Mr. Crow multiple times. Agent Feltner’s final interview of Mr. Crow revealed potentially incriminating evidence but Mr. Crow died before the interview was complete. Chatham is charged with terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorist acts.

The pretrial case features an argument centered on the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment. The defense will argue that the admission of statements obtained by Agent Feltner from Jayber Crow just prior to his death is unconstitutional under the Sixth Amendment, because there will be no opportunity to cross-examine Feltner. The prosecution will argue that these statements are admissible under the Constitution despite the lack of opportunity for cross-examination.

People v. Manette (2013)

People vs. Manette: A First Degree Murder Case Featuring a Fourth Amendment Pretrial Question (2013)People v. Manette is a first degree murder case in which the defendant, a victim of human trafficking, is accused of shooting and killing Sydney Carton, the defendant’s trafficker. On December 12, 2012, police entered the expensive and exclusive Spa Decollo with a warrant to investigate financial crimes. They found the recently deceased Carton, owner of the spa, in his office. The evidence will show that the defendant engaged in a heated argument with Mr. Carton, moments before his death. The defense will argue that the defendant was the victim in this case and was suffering from severe PTSD which rendered it impossible for the defendant to form the requisite mental state for murder. Further, there is evidence that Mr. Carton himself, or his business partner, may have had a hand in the death.

The pretrial question is based on the Fourth Amendment and explores probable cause needed for a warrantless search. The defense will argue that the police search violated a reasonable expectation of privacy and was neither within the scope of the search warrant nor supported by sufficient probable cause. The prosecution will argue that the search was covered by the search warrant, did not violate a reasonable expectation of privacy, and was based on sufficient probable cause.