Fort Worth

Judge denies motions to suppress some statements, change venue for accused kidnapper

Video shows 8-year-old girl being kidnapped in Fort Worth

An 8-year-old was kidnapped Saturday while walking with her mother in Fort Worth, police said. She is 4-foot-5, weighs 56 pounds and has brown hair and blue eyes.
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An 8-year-old was kidnapped Saturday while walking with her mother in Fort Worth, police said. She is 4-foot-5, weighs 56 pounds and has brown hair and blue eyes.

A judge has denied defense motions that sought to suppress some of the statements of a man who is accused of kidnapping an 8-year-old girl in Fort Worth and change the location of his trial.

However, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor on Wednesday granted a hearing to consider evidence that may support a motion that a federal public defender representing Michael Webb filed to withhold from jurors the first of two of his statements to law enforcement officers.

It is not clear what Webb said. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

The order’s synopsis of the case makes clear the victim was in a basket inside a hotel room when police entered a second time.

The girl was walking with her mother near Lowden Street and 6th Avenue on the evening of May 18 when Webb pulled her into his car, authorities said. The victim was found about eight hours later in Forest Hill at a WoodSpring Suites hotel.

A Forest Hill police sergeant inspected some locations inside Webb’s hotel room but did not find a child. On a second trip to the hotel two hours later, law enforcement officers again knocked on his door. Webb, 51, told officers to wait while he dressed.

”Instead of waiting, the officers forced their way into the room, removed him, observed blood on the bed, and found the child hidden in a basket under clothes,” prosecutors at U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote in response to one of the Webb motions cited in O’Connor’s order.

Before they arrived at his room, officers saw blood stains on the front passenger seat of Webb’s car outside and a girl’s earring and broken chain links in the car, according to prosecutors’ filings cited in the order.

The documents refer to the child’s mother breaking Webb’s gold chain in a struggle.

Federal public defender John Stickney argued that the second examination of Webb’s hotel room violated his Fourth Amendment rights for an expectation of privacy because officers did not obtain a search warrant and that an emergency exception did not apply because the previous police search did not reveal an abducted child.

Erin Nealy Cox, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Aisha Saleem contended the search was justified because of exigent circumstances fortified by new information. There was a stronger expectation that an imperiled child was inside the room, the prosecutors suggested. O’Connor agreed.

In an order filed on Friday denying Webb’s change of venue motion, O’Connor offered three explanations for why Stickney had not demonstrated that juror pool prejudice should be presumed and denied the request to transfer the case to Dallas from Fort Worth.

Information contained in reporting on the abduction and Webb’s arrest in mid-May will have drifted from the minds of potential jurors by Sept. 23, when the trial is scheduled to begin, the judge wrote.

O’Connor suggested journalists’ coverage of the case was most aggressive when Webb was arrested and has abated.

”There is simply no indication that the media interest defendant points to following his initial arrest has continued or will increase as the trial approaches,” O’Connor wrote.

The reporting on the crime and legal matters that have followed would not prohibitively stir anger in potential jurors, the judge asserted. Nor would the commentary offered by readers that was published with some of the news accounts.

”While some people have commented on the news articles, that is no indication of an inflammatory news report, nor does it demonstrate that there is a pervasive community prejudice against defendant,” O’Connor wrote.

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Emerson Clarridge covers crime and other breaking news for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He works evenings and reports on law enforcement affairs in Tarrant County. He previously was a reporter at the Omaha World-Herald and the Observer-Dispatch in Utica, New York.