CHARLES TOWN – Did Jonathan Riddle die in West Virginia or possibly in Maryland?
A defense lawyer for a Westminster, Maryland, man charged in connection with Riddle’s fatal stabbing and beating near Rippon in March argued the question during a preliminary hearing Monday in Jefferson County Magistrate Court.
Trial lawyer Jim Kratovil of Charles Town attempted to raise the point of legal uncertainty while defending David Ray Sanford Jr., 26, of Westminster against murder charges concerning Riddle’s drug-related murder.
Kratovil argued that the physical evidence police reportedly accumulated during the ongoing murder investigation — evidence backed up by statements from confidential witnesses—doesn’t prove that Riddle died along a rural stretch of Ward Clipp Road near Rippon as police maintain.
A 33-year-old man from Taneytown, Maryland, Riddle could have died in Sanford’s Westminster apartment where police believe he was first stabbed two or three times, Kratovil maintained. Riddle could have died while he was kidnapped during a car ride, as police allege, before reaching West Virginia, Kratovil said. The victim could have been stabbed several more times fatally during a stop in Maryland along the way, the lawyer continued.
Where Riddle died would determine whether the Jefferson County murder charges against Sanford fit the crime, Kratovil argued in court. “There’s just not enough evidence” to support the murder charges, the lawyer maintained.
Sanford and two other Carroll County, Maryland, men — Monroe Merrell, 23, of Westminster, and John Westley Black III, 22, of Taneytown — are charged with participating in stabbing Riddle several times and then burning his body at Ward Clipp Road.
Police and prosecutors maintain that Riddle’s slaying led to the killing of two women in Berkeley County who witnessed or knew about the events of his murder. Three other people are charged in connection with the murders of 33-year-old Heather Grogg, a live-in nanny to Sanford’s two children, and 18-year-old Danielle Tyler of Taneytown.
In court hearings, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigator Sgt. Steven Holz has testified that Sanford suffocated Tyler with a plastic bag in a “party trailer” in Falling Waters used as an outlaw motorcycle club. However, Sanford has not yet been charged in Berkeley County for any connection with that murder.
Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Harvey responded to Kratovil in court Monday that physical evidence and witness accounts demonstrate that Riddle was initially stabbed during a dispute over $40 worth of methamphetamine in the Westminster apartment but killed off at Ward Clipp Road.
According to an investigation relying on witness statements along with physical evidence, Sanford initially stabbed Riddle — whose arms were held apart by another man — two or three times in the stomach during the argument. Eight other people — not including two toddlers asleep in an upstairs bedroom — were in Sanford’s apartment who either witnessed or participated in the stabbing, police say in court documents and testimony.
A West Virginia medical examiner’s autopsy found that Riddle was stabbed at least 11 times. Holz said blood found at the roadway scene and the autopsy findings, evidence backed up by witness statements, indicated Riddle died at the roadway scene.
Harvey said the evidence and witness statements indicate Riddle was stabbed by Sanford, Merrell and Black at the roadway. The three men would not continue to stab Riddle if he was still alive at that point, the prosecutor said.
“It began in Maryland and spilled over into West Virginia,” Harvey said. “All of them came over here [into Jefferson County] acting in concert to finish what they started.”
Holz testified Monday that it was Sanford who carried a can of gasoline from a car to Riddle’s body so the body could be burned. Riddle’s car was also burned and abandoned in a field near Brunswick, Maryland.
Harvey added that the preliminary hearing was taking place only to show the evidence provided sufficient probable cause that a crime occurred in Jefferson County and that Sanford was involved. Criminal law in West Virginia allows prosecutors to adjust the charges to fit continuing events surrounding a crime as a felony case is bound over to circuit court, he said.
Nevertheless, Harvey and the triple murder case’s primary investigator, Holz, said a state crime lab case was still processing various physical evidence associated with Riddle’s killing. Prompted by Kratovil’s questioning of a homicide investigator in the case to provide the criminal police report, Harvey said he was not required to release, and would not release, that information at this point. Disclosing that information as evidence discovery for Sanford’s defense would occur later, he said.
In the end, Magistrate Vicki D’Angelo agreed that the evidence showed “more likely than not” that Sanford was involved in Riddle’s murder and that a crime related to his death occurred in Jefferson County.
Her ruling moves the case to circuit court for trial, however, it came after Kratovil probed other evidence in the murder investigation.
Kratovil questioned why the witnesses providing statements to police could not report where Riddle was placed in a car — either inside the passenger area or in the car’s trunk — while he was driven from Westminster — bleeding from two or three stab wounds, bound by his arms and legs — to Rippon.
Kratovil questioned whether nighttime video footage recorded at a sandwich shop off Interstate 70 in Maryland, where those who went to the scene near Rippon met in two cars, clearly showed whether Riddle was fatally stabbed at that location as Holz and Harvey maintain.
Referencing investigative steps sometimes dramatized in TV detective shows, Kratovil asked why police did not dig up dirt and pavement where police believe blood saturated some of the crime scenes at Ward Clipp Road.
The defense lawyer also asked why Holz and another investigator who arrived first at the murder scene near Rippon weren’t wearing body cameras to record video of the event. The defense attorney questioned why the two cars that drove to Rippon were recorded entering Jefferson County on a highway camera but not recorded by the same camera exiting the county later.
Holz said it’s standard that criminal investigators don’t wear body cameras as patrol officers do because of their different law enforcement roles. He said video recordings police collected provided clear and complete evidence. He said gathering blood evidence the way Kratovil suggested to dig up either the roadway or the dirt around Riddle’s body wasn’t necessary or useful — adding that Riddle’s investigation was “not a TV show, sir.”
The detective said the investigation recovered a document from defendants in the case that was used by outlaw motorcycle clubs, and that the document gave the advice — “like a motorcycle club code” — not to travel on the same route to and from a crime they commit.
Sanford, Merrell and Black went to the outlaw motorcycle clubhouse in Falling Waters to a St. Patrick’s Day party on the evening before Riddle was killed, according to police. Both Grogg and Tyler were brought to that same location before they were killed in planned murders, police believe.