KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Judge J. Dale Youngs put a lot of importance on the word "curtilage" in his guilty verdict in the Eric DeValkenaere trial.
Curtilage is the area around a person's property or home that is not open to the public, and it's ultimately what this case came down to.
While DeValkenaere's defense argued that he had to shoot and kill Cameron Lamb to defend his partner, Sgt. Troy Schwalm, Youngs ruled that DeValkenaere and Schwalm shouldn't have been on the property in the first place on Dec. 3, 2019.
"The court is compelled to further conclude the state has met its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sgt. Schwalm and defendant were the initial aggressors in the encounter with Cameron Lamb," Youngs said.
The officers didn't have permission to be on the property, nor did they have a search warrant. Youngs said they didn't have probable cause to obtain one, either.
Kansas City criminal defense attorneys Greg Watt and John Picerno offered their analysis to KSHB 41 News. They both agreed they didn't expect the judge to return a guilty verdict mostly on a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.
"From my perspective, I thought that the self-defense aspect of it was a little stronger than what it turned out to be," Watt said.
DeValkenaere's defense team argued the detectives were investigating suspicious activity. However, Youngs said the officers were not in the process of arresting Lamb and they weren't trying to keep him from evading an arrest.
"I am surprised about that, having heard that, because law enforcement officers — society wants to grant them a great latitude in performing their duties. So, if they felt reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed, we want them to investigate that type of activity," Picerno said.
Picerno said it's surprising because there hasn't been a case like this in Kansas City history. He's expecting DeValkenaere to appeal in the hopes that the judge tripped up.
"If there's an error in law and in applying the law that comes back to judicial decision, that's when you have legitimate grounds for appeal and those are when cases get reversed," Picerno said.
DeValkenaere hadn't filed for appeal as of Friday evening.
Picerno guessed that DeValkenaere's defense chose a bench trial likely because a jury might have been too emotional and would side with Lamb. Their hope, Picerno theorized, was that a judge wouldn't be emotional and would have the most knowledge of the law.
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