Michael J. Burroughs, the accused killer of Shannon Fischer, returned to court in Prairie du Chien last Friday for a motion hearing.
Rose Oliveto, Burroughs’ court-appointed attorney, brought two motions before Crawford County Circuit Court Judge James Czajkowski. The attorney moved to exclude evidence from a cadaver dog search of the apartment where Fischer was allegedly killed. In a second motion, Oliveto sought a change of venue for the trial.
Burroughs, 27, is accused of first-degree reckless homicide in the alleged strangulation of Fischer, his former girlfriend. The killing allegedly occurred in the apartment following an argument over a small amount of missing methamphetamine. He is also charged with hiding her corpse for allegedly disposing of her body in a dumpster, located in the apartment building’s parking lot.
Oliveto began on Friday with her continuing effort to suppress the results of the cadaver dog search of the Blackhawk Avenue apartment in Prairie du Chien, where the killing allegedly occurred in December of 2006. The matter had been previously argued at an earlier motion hearing and had been continued.
At issue in the motion hearing was the admissibility of a cadaver dog search of the apartment. The search was conducted last year following Burroughs’ surrender and taped confession to authorities in the fall of 2010 for killing Fischer almost four years prior.
The dog search, conducted by Madison Police Officer Corchrane and K-9 Molly-her canine partner, allegedly confirmed human remains had been present in the apartment years earlier.
Oliveto used the testimony of a dog-training expert, Steven W. Nicely, to dispute the credibility of the dog search in her attempt to exclude the evidence obtained. Nicely called into question the ability of the dog to accurately confirm the presence of a body years earlier. The dog-training expert took issue with the record keeping of the officer to prove the dog’s abilities. He also questioned the dog’s training.
Nicely's experience with training and using dogs began in 1973 in the Army and has continued to the present in one form or another.
Nicely confirmed that he had no direct experience with training or using cadaver dogs or Human Remains Detection Dogs (HRDDs), as the dogs are officially called. However, Nicely maintained that his extensive knowledge of the training and use of dogs for drug detection, explosive detection, and more was directly applicable to the training and techniques used by the cadaver dogs.
At one point using the records from the apartment search, Nicely explained the dog was probably cued or prompted by the handler, perhaps unconsciously, to confirm the lingering presence of human remains odor. The expert explained improperly trained dogs will “alert” to the handlers prompts or cues, rather than to the presence of a substance for which they are searching.
The testimony relating to proper dog training was extensive. As the noon hour approached and Crawford County District Attorney Tim Baxter cross-examined Nicely, it appeared that the testimony could not be concluded before lunch.
Baxter pressed Nicely on the point of poor record keeping affecting a dog’s ability to properly search. Nicely told the district attorney that recordkeeping was essential in confirming a dog could accurately perform its job.
At one point, Nicely told Baxter that to properly use the dog in the cadaver search, police should have taken the dog and handler to other houses or apartments in addition to the defendant’s former apartment. Then, the team should have searched each residence without knowing which was being targeted.
Following more testimony after the lunch break, the hearing was continued to another motion hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 24.
In addition to arguing the motion to exclude the dog search evidence, Oliveto also presented a motion seeking a change of venue for the trial. The attorney argued that it was necessary to move the trial to a different location because pretrial publicity would make it impossible to select an impartial jury in Crawford County.
After hearing Baxter on the change of venue motion, Czajkowski decided against the motion to change the venue of the trial. The judge believes it will be possible to seat an impartial jury in the county.
In addition to the continued motion hearing, the judge scheduled a jury trial for Feb. 14-17.
As he sat at the defense table Friday, Burroughs appeared relaxed chatting with his attorney and courtroom bailiffs at breaks. He was dressed in blaze orange prison scrubs and wore a white t-shirt underneath the top. He also wore white socks and black plastic sandals.
The defendant was shackled at the ankles and waist throughout the proceedings. He sat forward listening attentively for the most part. However, Burroughs did not testify or speak during the morning session.
The court proceedings were held in a temporary courtroom using the county board meeting room in Crawford County Administration Building due to the renovation of the Crawford Courthouse.