Judge denies motion to toss out key evidence in Judge Kocurek shooting

Federal prosecutors will be able to use incriminating cell phone records in the spring trial of the primary suspect in the shooting of Travis County state District Judge Julie Kocurek.

A defense motion to suppress the records, which authorities say place defendant Chimene Onyeri and two associates in Austin around the time of the November 2015 attack, was denied Friday by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel.

Wednesday on the witness stand, Onyeri tried to get the records tossed out, disputing an account from a Houston police officer who said he stopped a car Onyeri was riding in for an illegal turn three days after the attack on the judge. The lawfulness of the stop is pivotal to the case, as police seized Onyeri’s phone through a search warrant. Investigators managed to extract data from the phone that an Austin police officer called “highly incriminating” despite Onyeri breaking the phone into pieces.

Onyeri said he was at his friend’s house 15 minutes away when he received word that law enforcement officials were camped outside of his home in southwest Houston. Curious about what they were doing, he said he hitched a ride from an acquaintance to get a closer look.

As they approached in a Dodge Charger, Onyeri testified that the road was blocked by a SUV, prompting the driver of the Charger to turn left. An unmarked SUV followed, with Onyeri saying he suspected it was either police or a “jack boy” wanting to rob them. Onyeri said he cautioned the driver, Reginald Matthews, to obey all traffic laws as they circled back to the home.

They were followed by a second SUV, marked as Houston police, and were stopped for making an improper turn into the far lane.

Yeakel wrote “there was probable cause to stop the vehicle for a traffic violation and there was a reasonable suspicion to believe that Onyeri was in the vehicle at the time of the stop.”

All four men in the car were arrested on various charges, with police taking Onyeri into custody on an auto theft warrant out of Louisiana.

At the time, Onyeri was a person of interest in the shooting of Kocurek, who investigators say wanted Kocurek dead because she was prepared to send him to prison for violating probation on a fraud charge. That would have put an end to the Onyeri-led illegal racketeering scheme that is detailed in a 17-count federal indictment, federal prosecutors have said.

Two co-defendants, Marcellus Burgin and Rasul Scott, have already pleaded guilty in the shooting of Kocurek and are awaiting sentencing.

Shortly after the arrest, Onyeri was charged with murder in connection to an unrelated May 2015 shooting of a man in Houston that police said had badly beaten up Onyeri’s father following a car wreck. The charge was later dismissed, as was a murder charge Onyeri faced years earlier in Houston.

Onyeri’s trial begins March 26 in Austin’s federal court and could take up to two months.

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