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Dante Taylor case missteps examined in court hearing

Dante Taylor, 19, of Mastic, is led out

Dante Taylor, 19, of Mastic, is led out of the Sixth Precinct in Selden for arraignment in Central Islip on Saturday, July 12, 2014. Taylor, who has been charged with second-degree murder in the June slaying of Sarah P. Goode of Medford. Credit: James Carbone

The day before a young mother was found raped and stabbed to death in Medford woods, family members searching for her at the Smith Point Park marina found what they believed could have been her leggings, a police officer testified Monday in a pretrial hearing in Riverhead.

And five to 10 feet away from where family members of Sarah Goode, 21, of Medford, found the leggings on June 11, 2014, Officer Jessica Story recalled on the witness stand, she saw men’s underwear and socks and a piece of a sweatshirt.

“The missing person was last seen wearing a pair of leggings similar to these,” Story said family members told her at the time.

After homicide detectives decided the men’s clothing had no evidentiary value, Story, then a county Parks Police officer, said she collected them anyway and later turned them into the county police department.

Without ever having them photographed or forensically tested, the police department destroyed those items in October 2014. Prosecutors were unaware of any of that until Friday, which prompted an irate state Supreme Court Justice John Collins to order the hearing that began Monday.

The non-disclosure and destruction of this potential evidence is the latest of several law enforcement blunders that have plagued the first-degree murder case against Dante Taylor, 20, of Mastic. He is accused of raping Goode and stabbing her 42 times, ultimately leaving a piece of a snapped-off blade embedded in her skull.

Other law enforcement missteps have included:

-- Arresting and interrogating Taylor on June 10 without advising him of his rights, which led Collins to rule that statements, fingerprints and DNA collected as a result of that arrest would be indamissible at trial. Taylor was arrested again later and fingerprints and DNA from that arrest can be used.

-- Failing to turn over to the defense Crime Stoppers tips pointing to other suspects, in violation of what is known as the Brady rule, the judge concluded. That rule generally requires prosecutors to turn over evidence favorable to the defense as soon as law enforcement has it.

-- Destroying a threatening voice mail message from one of those suspects on Goode’s cell phone, also a Brady rule violation, Collins decided.

Collins credited the perserverance of defense attorney John Lewis Jr. in bringing to light the discovery of the men’s clothing at Smith Point Park. It has not been made clear why the family was searching there, but an earlier suspect in the case was seen at the park the day after Goode disappeared.

Story said the men’s clothing was classified as “property” not associated with any case, and not as evidence related to Goode.

Homicide Det. Joseph Brennan testified that he went to the marina when the leggings were found. Story showed him where the men’s clothing was, but he was not impressed by it.

“There was other garbage there,” Brennan said during questioning by Assistant District Attorney Janet Albertson. “Everything appeared to have been there for weeks. ... Nothing seemed to be evidentiary to our case.”

The hearing will continue Tuesday.

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