Police: Phone led to murder suspect
HOLLIDAYSBURG – An Altoona narcotics detective testified Thursday he was able to locate a homicide suspect, who he knew only as “Juice,” last Halloween night by tracing his cellphone.
When Juice was found riding in a car with a friend in Huntingdon County and the vehicle was stopped, “Juice,” Altoona Police Cpl. Christopher Moser said, gave the name of James Santos.
That name, Moser said, turned out to be false. A fingerprint check turned up the name of Hugo Baez, then 20, of New York.
Moser testified Thursday about Baez’s arrest for the murder of 22-year-old Willie Solomon last Oct. 31. at Choices Night Club in Altoona during a pretrial hearing before Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle, who is working her way through several motions filed by Baez’s attorneys, Thomas M. Dickey and David Kaltenbaugh, and the attorney for a co-defendant, Brandon A. Midder of Altoona, Steven Passarello.
Kaltenbaugh on Thursday objected to the use of Moser’s testimony about Baez giving a false name during the upcoming Baez trial.
The defense attorney indicated that it should be suppressed because Baez was not advised of his right to remain silent before he was asked his name by police.
Moser, who spends most of his time on narcotics investigations, said he was in his Altoona Police Department office doing paperwork late on Halloween night when the Solomon homicide was reported.
People in the bar indicated to police that the suspect was a person named “Juice.”
The officer said he didn’t know Juice’s name but did know who he was, since he supervised two drug buys involving a person of that name.
Moser contacted a confidential informant who had Baez’s cellphone number, and Moser was able to track the phone, which was in the Tyrone area.
Moser and other officers drove to Tyrone, and Moser spotted a car driven by Midder. The officer said he knew the car and Midder.
He also could see another person in the car, although he couldn’t identify him.
Police followed the car to a Martin’s Store in Alexandria, then, after seeing the Midder car had faulty lights, contacted State Police from Huntingdon. The car was stopped because of the faulty lights.
When a state police trooper asked Baez to identify himself, he used the name James Santos, Moser said.
The defense is attempting to suppress that statement.
Doyle has been holding series of hearings on the defense pretrial motions, the last hearing in July.
The judge stated at the end of the hearing Thursday she must now prepare an opinion addressing each of the issues.
When that is completed, the case will be ready for trial, according to prosecutors, First Assistant District Attorney Jackie Bernard and Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks.
The attorneys agreed that there remain several outstanding questions.
One of the most important to Passarello is his request to sever the Midder and Baez trials.
Midder is not charged with homicide, but is accused of assaulting Solomon after Baez allegedly shot him.
Passarello is contending the testimony from Midder’s preliminary hearing does not warrant the serious charges of aggravated assault, firearms violations and tampering with evidence that have been brought against Midder.
He contends also that a jury would be prejudiced against Midder if he were to go to trial with Baez, who faces first-degree murder charges.
The defense for Baez also favors separate trials.
Kaltenbaugh explained that the defense team has challenged the search warrants issued by police during their investigation of the Solomon homicide, another question Doyle must address.
He said some of the warrants were well-written and some weren’t.
If the judge finds a search warrant defective, then those items discovered during the search cannot be used at trial.
Baez, Solomon and Solomon’s brother, Jacob Dormevil, were among many others at Choices Night Club the night of the shooting.
Police have charged that Baez and Dormevil came to words, and the two were on their way outside to supposedly engage in a fist fight.
As Dormevil exited the club, a video shows Baez pull a gun and fire.
Dormevil was not hurt, but Baez, it is charged, then turned and shot Solomon – who attempted to grab him from behind – on the way out of the door.
Midder allegedly pistol-whipped Solomon as he fell to the floor, and then drove Baez away from Altoona.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.