- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Metropolitan Police Department does not have to search a Virginia landfill for a woman who has been missing since last year and is presumed dead, a judge ruled Wednesday in rejecting a public defender’s request.

Superior Court Judge William Jackson said he did not think he had the authority to order the search and accepted prosecutors’ arguments that the excavation would endanger officers and have a minimal chance of success.

“This is not a situation where someone can say with some certainty, ‘This is what happened. This is where I placed the body,’” Judge Jackson said after hearing arguments from both sides.

A public defender for Brian Gaither, one of several people that prosecutors accuse of kidnapping and murder in the death of Latisha Frazier during a dispute over money last summer, had asked the judge to force police to search the landfill in Chesterfield County. He said recovering the body could be a critical piece of evidence in his client’s defense, especially because police and prosecutors believe Frazier was strangled to death.

Frazier disappeared last August and the case was open for several months as police searched for her body and for suspects. Mr. Gaither was arrested in January on an unrelated charge and admitted to detectives that he was part of a group of people responsible for Frazier’s death in the District, prosecutors say. He has said he wrapped his arm around Frazier’s neck in a strangulation move, according to prosecutors, who said he then disposed of her body by placing it in a tote bag and then into a dumpster.

The dumpster would have been emptied at a transfer station and the refuse taken to one of two landfills in Virginia, prosecutors say.

Eugene Ohm, Mr. Gaither’s lawyer, argued in court Wednesday that police departments have a fundamental responsibility to locate missing people. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Kavanaugh said any search of the landfill would be based solely on the memory of a defendant who has previously lied to detectives. And if Mr. Gaither’s story is even slightly off, then the body may be in a different location altogether, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have said in court papers that the search would take months and cost millions of dollars. They say if Frazier’s body is in fact in the landfill, then it’s likely 60 to 70 feet below the surface and that more than 500,000 cubic yards of trash would have to be removed to reach the search area.

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