Evidence in Rick Chow murder case dismissed due to search warrants that lack ‘probable cause,’ judge rules

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Published: Sep. 23, 2023 at 11:22 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A motion to dismiss evidence collected during search warrants executed on Rick Chow, the Columbia gas station owner accused of fatally shooting 14-year-old Cyrus Carmack-Belton in May, was granted.

On Thursday, Judge Robert Hood wrote that the search warrant lacked “probable cause,” and violated Chow’s Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, as well as his rights under the South Carolina Constitution, which “provides a safeguard against unlawful searches and seizures.”

Investigators obtained search warrants on July 7 for the defendant’s home and business.

The evidence obtained during the search included Chow’s personal laptops with banking information on them.

Chow’s defense team, which includes veteran attorney Jack Swerling, filed a motion to dismiss the evidence on July 18.

At an emergency hearing on July 25, Swerling argued before Hood that the search warrant exceeded the scope of the investigation.

“They’re way off base,” Swerling said during the emergency court hearing. “They’re not entitled to any of it. So the question is whether you move to suppress it now or suppress it later, but the issue is not really suppressing the evidence because there’s no evidence of a crime. The issue is whether or not they’re entitled to this information.”

Deputy Solicitor April Sampson of the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, argued at the time that the state needs access to these items to try to find store policies regarding shoplifting.

According to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Chow shot Carmack-Belton in the back on May 28, after falsely accusing him of shoplifting bottles of water.

Todd Rutherford, who is representing the Carmack-Belton family, told WIS in an interview Saturday that he does not believe the dismissal of the evidence will have an impact on Chow’s case.

“I don’t believe it will at all,” he said. “Obviously, we don’t know because we don’t know what was on the computer. But this is a case that is a murder case where Mr. Chow and his son chased my client’s son down and shot him in the back and killed him. So I’m not sure how the computer was relevant, and I don’t believe that it’s going to impact the prosecution.”

During the hearing, while Hood did not issue a ruling, he advised SLED agents working on the case to stop reviewing what was obtained during that search.

In his order on Thursday, Hood wrote in part that “Mr. Chow did not use any of the items recovered in the search during the commission of the crime of which he is charged.”

Chow’s bond on the murder charge was denied in August.

You can find a copy of the granted motion below:

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