Evidence suppressed, but meth lab case continues

Dena R. Turner, accused in a case connected to the Vineyard Inn, saw some of the evidence against her thrown out.

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WALLA WALLA -- A Superior Court judge Wednesday decided to suppress certain evidence against a woman charged in connection with the alleged discovery of a large methamphetamine lab at the Walla Walla Vineyard Inn last spring.

But the criminal case against Dena R. Turner will continue despite the ruling by Judge John Lohrmann.

Turner -- the motel's manager when meth lab components reportedly were found in a guest room May 18 -- is accused of complicity to the manufacturing of meth and is incarcerated in the County Jail.

Officials claim she aided and abetted co-defendant Clifford E. Chew, partly by allowing him to store four 64-ounce bottles of ammonia in a freezer in her room -- the manager's room -- near the main office.

Turner's attorney, Jerry Makus, and Jim Barrett, Chew's lawyer, maintained at a hearing this week that the ammonia and other evidence discovered when a SWAT team served a search warrant at the motel, 325 E. Main St., should not be admissible as their cases progress. The warrant included overbroad language allowing the search of multiple rooms, the lawyers contended.

Lohrmann ruled in court Wednesday that the search warrant was valid and most of the evidence recovered is admissible. But Lohrmann said law enforcement officials exceeded the scope of the warrant by searching Turner's freezer. Based on specific language contained in the warrant, Lohrmann decided not to allow a jury to hear evidence related to the discovery of the ammonia bottles should the cases go to trial.

The warrant -- authorized by Walla Walla County District Court Judge John Knowlton -- allowed the search of room 106, allegedly occupied by Chew, where police say they recovered many items used to manufacture meth. In addition, possibly other unknown rooms "given to him" by the manager were subject to search, according to the warrant.

Evidence presented in court this week revealed that a law enforcement surveillance officer saw Chew going from his room to the area of Turner's room while carrying two shopping bags before his room was raided. Lohrmann acknowledged that a legal argument could be made that a search of Turner's freezer was legitimate because it was in a room allegedly made accessible to Chew by Turner, the manager.

But, "That's not what the search warrant says," Lohrmann said in court, explaining his suppression ruling. "(The manager's room) was not one given to Mr. Chew by the manager."

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gabriel Acosta said in an interview following Wednesday's hearing that the case against Turner, 38, will proceed with other evidence. She gave Chew her master key card allowing access to several other units, failed to register him as a guest and didn't collect money from him, according to a police report filed in court.

Her trial is scheduled for Oct. 10.

Chew, 56, of Pendleton, is charged with manufacture of methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of a school bus route stop, possessing pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture meth and possession of the controlled substance with intent to deliver. His trial is set for Oct. 18.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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