Evidence suppressed in Port Mahon shooting death case

 

DOVER — Cell phone and DNA evidence in connection with a shooting death at Port Mahon last year will be suppressed due to an invalid search warrant, according to court documents.

Chelsea Braunskill, of Camden-Wyoming, and two other defendants are charged with first-degree murder in the death of a 24-year-old Dover man on a fishing pier on March 30, 2016.

A final case review before Superior Court Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr. is set for June 2, with a trial to commence on July 10.

Dover residents Daiquan T. Bordley and Zhyhee Harmon are each facing separate trials. Mr. Harmon is scheduled for June 19 and Mr. Bordley will be tried in August. Both were 22 years old at the time of the alleged incident, and Ms. Braunskill was 19.

Other charges include possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, second-degree conspiracy and first-degree robbery.

Dontray Hendricks was mortally wounded after a physical confrontation with suspects at the pier, Delaware State Police said when announcing three arrests more than a year ago.

A state police detective received a search warrant from Justice of the Peace Court 2 on April 19, 2016, aiming for Ms. Braunskill’s cell phone and a specific phone number on it, along with taking a DNA swab from her, according to court papers.

Chelsea Braunskill

On Wednesday, the prosecution withdrew its motion in support of the search warrant and the evidence resulting from it. It earlier indicated there were no plans to introduce the DNA at trial, rendering the question moot.

The defense argued in a motion that the search warrant “failed to limit the scope of the officer’s search of the cell phone to relevant material, and it failed to place any limitation on the types of data, media and files to be searched.”

Also, according to the defense, the warrant provided “broad authority to rummage through the entire digital life of the cell phone’s owner.”

Daiquan T. Bordley

A brief reference to the need for a DNA sample “was made without proper foundation or support,” and failed “to justify the search of Ms. Braunskill’s body to seize her DNA sample, the defense maintained in the motion.

The defense cited Delaware case law indicating the need for specific items listed on a search warrant for electronic devices to protect against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The last communication

During investigation, according to court documents, police learned that Mr. Hendricks’ last communication on his cell phone involved a number associated with Ms. Braunskill.

According to the Attorney General’s office in its response Ms. Braunskill “provided a statement to the police which was uncorroborated by the evidence available to the police at the time of her interview.

DaMier Harmon

“During the interview (Ms. Braunskill) admitted going to the scene of the murder with Mr. Hendricks, as well as having her cell phone with her during and after the murder.”

Before dropping its position, the prosecution maintained, “The warrant was as specific as it could be given the circumstances.”

According to the Attorney General’s Office, “(Ms. Braunskill’s) phone was linked to the victim through cell phone records and (she placed herself) and her phone at the scene of the murder; however, the police did not know at the time of the warrant what events precipitated the phone calls between (Ms. Braunskill and Mr. Hendricks).

“Similarly, they did not know what information may have been related by (Ms. Braunskill) following the murder. They did not know if evidence would be in the form of text messages, video clips, photographs, data messages, voicemails, etc …”

The prosecution maintained, “There is probable cause to believe evidence related to the murder was on her phone, as she had it at the time and place of the murder.”

Attorney Alex Funk is defending Ms. Braunskill, with Deputy Attorneys General Jason Cohee and Lindsay Taylor prosecuting the case.

Probable cause described

In a probable cause sheet filed on April 19, 2016, a Delaware State Police Master Corporal recounted troopers being called to the Port Mahon fishing pier at 12:39 p.m. on March 30, 2016 for a reported deceased male.

Mr. Hendricks was found dead with a gunshot wound to the torso and pronounced dead at the scene by Kent County paramedics, police said.

Port Mahon is located approximately two miles east of Little Creek on the Delaware Bay, the affidavit stated.

An investigation began, and Mr. Hendricks’ girlfriend and family members were interviewed and gave police his cell phone number, the trooper wrote.

The phone was not found when Mr. Hendricks was found, police said.

Police received information that Mr. Hendricks “always carried his phone with him and would respond to text messages and calls at any time of the day or night.”

On March 29, 2016, Mr. Hendricks apparently left his Dover home at approximately 10 p.m.

“Neither (name redacted) or family members contacted could provide any information regarding his whereabouts between that time and the time his body was discovered.”

Police traced a number on Mr. Hendricks’ phone to Ms. Braunskill, according to the affidavit, and a trooper contacted her at that number on April 19, 2016 to confirm it was hers.

That same day, documents said, Ms. Braunskill and her father went at Troop 3 for an interview.

According to police, Ms. Braunskill reported that Mr. Hendricks called her and asked if she could go to Port Mahon with him. The duo left her dormitory at Delaware State University, arrived at Port Mahon and were confronted by three males while walking on the fishing pier, she told police.

“(Ms. Braunskill) advised that she ran off the pier and hid in the tall grass,” according to the trooper’s affidavit.

“(Ms. Braunskill) advised that she heard a single gunshot and the three suspects left the area.

“Ms. Braunskill advised that she did not check on Mr. Hendricks’ condition.”

According to Ms. Braunskill in the interview, she walked from Port Mahon to DSU, police said.

With no cell phone reception at Port Mahon, according to Ms. Braunskill in papers, she could not call for a ride home.

“(Ms. Braunskill) advised that she did not call 911 because she was scared,” according to the trooper’s affidavit.

“(Ms. Braunskill) advised that she had not told anyone about the incident. (Ms. Braunskill) advised that she sold the jacket she was wearing the night of the incident.

“When advised that her account of the incident was not believable, (Ms. Braunskill) refused to answer any further questions without an attorney.”

When announcing the arrests in 2016, police said three suspects were arrested and held without bail at the Delaware Department of Correction.

In a news release last year, police reported that investigation found that Ms. Braunskill and Mr. Hendricks allegedly went to Port Mahon to smoke marijuana.

Authorities claimed that Mr. Hendricks was approached from behind by three men and Mr. Bordley allegedly shot him in the torso.

The three men fled in Mr. Bordley’s vehicle, police alleged.

The affidavit stated that Ms. Braunskill “who knew about the plan to rob Hendricks prior to their arrival at the pier, then fled the scene in Mr. Hendricks’ vehicle.”

Investigators said they linked three of the four suspects allegedly present at the incident to the case.

Mr. Bordley was taken into custody without incident in Smyrna on April 29, 2016.

Mr. Harmon was arrested without incident in the Capitol Green neighborhood in Dover on May 4, 2016.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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