Peter LaFuria, right, with attorney Glen Vamvoras in this 2007 photo. (American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 10:20 AM
Cameras and CDs with photos taken from Dr. Peter LaFuria’s truck can be used as evidence in the former Lake Charles gynecologist’s video voyeurism case, a judge ruled Tuesday.
The trial however, won’t be held on Calcasieu Parish.
Judge David Ritchie denied a defense motion to suppress evidence, but granted a motion to change venue.
Where the trial will be held is still to be decided. The case will be back in court Jan. 25 for further discussion of a location.
LaFuria is charged with 186 counts of video voyeurism, 78 counts of sexual battery and five counts of molestation of a juvenile.
He is accused of taking photos of his unknowing patients’ genitals.
The motion to suppress evidence arose from the search warrant, which listed LaFuria’s medical practice and vehicles on the premises.
Because the first warrant written up, which was denied by a judge, also listed his home, detectives said they understood the warrant to also include his truck, which was searched at his house.
Citing “inevitable discovery,” with “exigent circumstances” factoring in, Ritchie said that he believed the evidence found in LaFuria’s truck would have eventually been found.
Among factors he called “powerful, persuasive facts” were: LaFuria had admitted taking a photo of a woman’s genitals, but a camera had not been found; LaFuria was planning on taking a fishing trip; LaFuria knew he was being investigated; his nurse testified she had never seen him take photos of patients.
“The totality of the circumstances indicate probable cause existed,” Ritchie said. “Because of probable cause, it would have inevitably have been found through constitutional means.”
Glen Vamvoras, LaFuria’s defense attorney, said he would appeal the denial. He said key to the inevitable discovery ruling was whether evidence “would have” been found, not “could have.”
“I don’t agree (inevitable discovery) applies here at all,” Vamvoras said. “The officers who testified disclaimed exigent circumstances. They basically said there weren’t any. The court found that there were. I don’t know if the task of the court of appeal will be, I guess, to determine whose mind should be thinking exigent circumstances — the officers or the prosecution. That’s what I intend to urge on appeal. I think the court of appeals will agree with me on that.”
Killingsworth said Ritchie’s ruling was “right on target and he will not be reversed unless some weird fluke happens.”
In ruling to change venue, Ritchie said that a mock jury selection called in early November showed that an unbiased jury could not be found in Calcasieu.
According to his notes, 27 of the 50 people called might have made it through the first phase of jury selection, but he said he had serious questions of how many would make it past that.
Killingsworth said she has concerns about alleged victims that will have to travel, but will not appeal the decision.
“I really wanted the venue to remain here, I thought we could win that motion but I also understand why we did not,” she said, agreeing that the mock jury selection highlighted the difficulties in selecting a local jury for the case.
“The main purpose in all of this was to get this case off the ground,” she said. “Finally we’re in a position where we can move. They’ve waited too long. They shouldn’t have had to wait this long.”
The rulings bring to rest a motion to suppress evidence that was first filed in October 2007, after LaFuria was arrested in April 2007.
Killingsworth said that the question of whether the evidence was covered by the warrant has slowed the case, but what has really held it up were discovery issues.
She said that each time a copy of the thousands of digital photos was made, it changed the date on the photo.
“We have to be able to track each of those photographs back to each source and the people who did the forensic exam did not give us that information,” she said.
Killingsworth said she has even taken a class on hash codes, which hold digital information.