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The trial in the 2017 slaying of a young Russian woman on a lonely logging road outside Alsea is still four months away, but lawyers for both sides are already slugging it out in court.

Late last month, the attorney representing William Chase Hargrove, scheduled to go on trial in October for the murder of Anna Repkina, filed a sweeping 97-page motion in Benton County Circuit Court claiming police unconstitutionally gathered evidence in the case without proper search warrants and asking for all of that evidence to be suppressed.

Last week, prosecutors in the case fired back with a pair of court filings of their own, one arguing that all evidence seized in the case was gathered properly under valid warrants and the other asking the judge to rule that statements made by the defendant prior to his arrest can be admitted in court.

The dueling motions, which will ultimately determine what evidence can be presented to the jury at trial, shed light on the legal strategies being pursued by both the defense and the prosecution and reveal new details about the case, which has garnered international attention.

In a lonely place

The case started as a mystery. An unidentified young woman, killed by a gunshot, was found alongside a logging road a few miles outside Alsea shortly before 5 p.m. on April 17, 2017, the Monday after Easter.

By Wednesday, Benton County sheriff’s detectives were still trying to identify the woman, who a medical examiner concluded was killed Sunday evening or early Monday, and find anyone who knew her.

But the next day they announced a break: the arrest of a 27-year-old mechanic, William Chase Hargrove, for murdering a woman involved with him in what a prosecutor called “a problematic love triangle.”

It wasn’t until the next week that police announced the victim’s identity: She was Anna Alekseyevna Repkina, a 27-year-old from Russia.

Over the next month more details came out as court filings in the case were unsealed, such as how investigators cracked the case: They found a fast food receipt at the murder scene that led to Kevin Thomas, one of Hargrove’s friends, who told them Hargrove was in simultaneous relationships with two women: a Russian woman and a married Albany woman, Michelle Chavez.

Thomas also told them something else. He said Hargrove had borrowed a shotgun from him and never returned it.

Chavez, according to affidavits filed to get search warrants in the case, told investigators she gave Hargrove an ultimatum on the night of Saturday, April 16. He “needed to fix” the situation with Repkina and “get rid of her.”

Less than 48 hours later, Repkina was found dead alongside a Coast Range logging road by a Weyerhaeuser caretaker out on a walk with his dog.

Hargrove’s account 

Among more than a dozen documents totaling hundreds of pages filed by prosecutors last week was a motion asking the court to allow them to use two police interviews with Hargrove at trial. The filing included more than 100 pages of transcripts of Hargrove’s first two conversations with law enforcement, which give Hargrove’s account of events publicly for the first time.

The first interview was conducted starting around 4 p.m. on April 19, 2017, outside the Albany residence where Hargrove rented a room from Chavez and her husband. The second interview was at the Law Enforcement Center in Corvallis later that day.

The detectives who conducted the interview, Chris Duffitt and Adam Miller of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, started by trying to build a rapport with Hargrove, asking him about his former work as a bouncer at the Peacock Bar & Grill in Corvallis and his new job as a mechanic at Lassen Chevrolet and Toyota in Albany.

The detectives spent a while asking Hargrove about his whereabouts on the weekend Repkina was killed but didn’t tell him what they were investigating.

That Friday, Hargrove told them, he and Thomas had gone to KFC for their regular weekly fried chicken dinner. Hargrove said he’d spent Saturday afternoon playing video games with Thomas and spent the evening riding around with Chavez as she picked up fares in her taxicab. On Sunday, he said, he and Chavez drove out to Alsea together in his Nissan Xterra and had sex in the backseat.

In a separate interview the same day, however, Chavez told investigators that she had met Hargrove at Alsea in her own vehicle on Sunday. It was in that same interview she told the detectives she’d given Hargrove her ultimatum about getting rid of Repkina.

Eventually, Duffitt and Miller worked their way around to asking Hargrove about some garbage from KFC, which included the credit card receipt with Thomas’ name on it that was found at the murder scene.

Thomas had told investigators in an earlier interview that he’d left the garbage in Hargrove’s vehicle.

According to the transcripts, Hargrove told police that while he was with Chavez on Sunday he stopped at the Alsea Mercantile and threw a bag of garbage from KFC onto a pile of garbage outside the store.

After the interview moved to the Law Enforcement Center, the detectives continued to ask Hargrove about the garbage, but he continued to say he left it at the Mercantile. Eventually one of the detectives told Hargrove the garbage was not found where he said he left it.

“I had nothing to do with that then, because that’s where I left it,” said Hargrove.

Some other highlights from the interview:

Hargrove told the detectives that he had met Repkina when she was walking around in Corvallis and that he had only been on two dates with her. Later he said they “hung out” a few times in addition to that but that he had broken off their relationship.

According to affidavits filed by investigators, however, the landlord of the 2021 NW Garfield apartment said Hargrove and Repkina signed a lease agreement together on March 8. Evidence lists submitted by the prosecution also suggest a deeper connection, including visa documents belonging to Repkina that were found in Hargrove’s vehicles and video of Hargrove setting up a cellphone for Repkina at a T-Mobile store.

Hargrove claimed in the interview that he broke it off with Repkina because she posted on Facebook that they were engaged after the second date, which he said angered Chavez.

“She posted that … after two dates?” Miller asked.

“Oh yeah, and it brought hell down upon me,” Hargrove replied.

“From who?” Miller asked him.

“Michelle (Chavez). Michelle’s family.”

Detectives also asked Hargrove about the shotgun he had borrowed from Thomas — the gun Thomas said had never been returned to him.

Hargrove said he borrowed the gun from Thomas to clean it for him and had returned it weeks before the interview with police.

Court filings from last week said law enforcement officers found the gun in Hargrove’s Nissan Xterra during a search.

The interview ended when the detectives confronted Hargrove about the KFC receipt, saying it was found near where Repkina was killed.

At that point, Hargrove stopped talking.

“If you guys are looking at me for this,” he announced, “I want a lawyer.”

He was arrested and charged with murder, a Measure 11 crime carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. Prosecutors later added a felony charge of identity theft for allegedly stealing Repkina’s ID documents and two misdemeanor counts of second-degree theft in connection with the theft of $805.50 in cash.

Hargrove has pleaded not guilty to all charges in the case. Since his arrest more than two years ago, he has been held without bail while awaiting trial.

Motion to suppress

Mike Flinn, the defense attorney representing Hargrove, believes law enforcement officers violated his client’s constitutional rights during their investigation.

In the April 19, 2017, interviews, he said, detectives Duffitt and Miller engaged in unconstitutional questioning of Hargrove.

“Specifically, we believe that Mr. Hargrove was not properly advised of his Miranda warnings at the appropriate time during the interrogation,” Flinn said by email.

He also said law enforcement officials conducted improper searches.

On May 29, Flinn filed a motion that asks the court to prevent prosecutors from using evidence gathered from Hargrove’s cellphone and from 14 search warrants served at locations that included Hargrove’s residence with Repkina in Corvallis, the residence he shared with Chavez and her husband in Albany, and Hargrove’s vehicles.

The motion claims evidence shows police accessed Hargrove’s phone without a warrant, but does not make clear what that evidence is.

It also argues that an affidavit filed by a detective did not establish sufficient probable cause for initial search warrants in the case. The motion states that, since probable cause was not established for the initial search warrants on April 20, 2017, they were unconstitutional and all the search warrants based on evidence gathered through those searches is also invalid and unconstitutional.

The motion argues the search warrants issued in the case were so broad they do not meet the particularity requirements established in the U.S. and Oregon constitutions for warrant searches.

Flinn wrote in his motion that the warrants issued in the case were overbroad because they only referenced a crime of murder but did not name victim or suspect. Because they did not specify who was murdered or who the suspect was, police were allowed to search for evidence of any murder by anyone, he wrote in the motion.

“But law enforcement did not have probable cause to search for evidence of these crimes against anyone. The facts in the affidavits do not support that conclusion. ... At best, law enforcement had probable cause to search, seize and analyze the listed items for crimes specifically related to the alleged victim involving a specific suspect, (the) defendant.”

Flinn said by email that because issues around search and seizure often come up when a person has been accused of a serious crime, it can taint people’s views of the process.

“If a person committed the crime, why should we be looking back at how law enforcement got to the arrest? The problem is that if we don’t carefully review and challenge law enforcement activity, then everyone’s rights are eroded. Police are people, and like all people, they are imperfect. Most will act constitutionally; some will not, and will only stop acting unconstitutionally if there is a consequence,” he wrote.

He acknowledged that a motion to suppress evidence may seem very technical and process-oriented, but said if no one challenges the process it could create a situation where police can get warrants that allow them to search for and seize anything.

“Everyone should be concerned about the government looking around in their private lives. If we don’t challenge the way in which law enforcement gathers information, if we don’t hold them to the standards required by the Oregon and United States Constitution, then their investigations will reach the point where they gather private information from an innocent citizen without any safeguards in place,” he wrote.

Flinn also wrote that Hargrove is not guilty of the charges facing him and that the state’s theory of the case is not supported by the evidence.

“Our position is that someone other than Mr. Hargrove murdered Anna Repkina,” he wrote. “I can’t talk specifically about the evidence we have.”

Prosecutors respond

On Monday, Senior Deputy Benton County District Attorney Amie Matusko, the lead prosecutor in the case, filed a 54-page response to Flinn’s motion to suppress evidence gathered through the use of search warrants during the investigation.

In her filing, Matusko claimed that two cellphones seized in the case were legally obtained and were searched only after valid warrants were issued. She also contended that all the other warrants served by investigators in the case were properly obtained and supported by probable cause.

In addition, she argued that Flinn’s motion is too vague because it does not specify which of the more than 300 items of evidence it seeks to suppress.

“The defendant’s lack of particularity places a herculean burden on the state and court to decrypt his motion, relate it to evidence seized, and then determine if the warrants support the search and seizure of a particular item,” she wrote.

“This kind of blanket motion is unhelpful to the court and state in a case of this magnitude.”

On Tuesday, anticipating a possible defense motion to suppress statements made by Hargrove before his arrest, Chief Deputy District Attorney Ryan Joslin filed a preemptive 12-page motion with the court.

He also attached transcripts of the two interviews of Hargrove conducted by Benton County sheriff’s detectives on April 19, 2017, first outside his Albany residence on Montclair Drive and then at the Law Enforcement Center (LEC) in Corvallis.

In his motion, Joslin argued virtually everything Hargrove told Detectives Duffitt and Miller that day should be admitted into evidence because the information was given freely.

“The state concedes that any statements made by defendant during the LEC interview following and including defendant’s statement, ‘If you guys are looking at me for this I want a lawyer,’ would not be admissible,” Joslin wrote.

“However, the state contends that the entirety of the Montclair interview, and any statements made during the LEC interview prior to the request for a lawyer, should be admissible, and the state asks the court for a pretrial ruling so ordering.”

In a phone interview with a reporter on Friday, Joslin expanded on that assertion. He pointed out that Detectives Duffitt and Miller advised Hargrove of his Miranda rights during both interviews, including his right to remain silent and to be represented by an attorney, but that Hargrove didn’t try to assert those rights until the end of the second interview, when he was handcuffed and taken into custody.

“My position is if you look at all the facts, if you read the transcripts, it was just a casual conversation. At no point did he have reason to believe he was under arrest,” Joslin told the newspaper.

“Our position is that it should be clear that all his statements were voluntary and should be admissible up until the point where he said, ‘I want a lawyer.’”

The last word

These kinds of dueling motions from the prosecution and the defense are common in complex criminal cases, especially for a high stakes proceeding such as a murder trial.

The legal claims and counterclaims will be sorted out by the judge, who will determine what can and can’t be presented to the jury.

At trial, both sides will call their witnesses and present their evidence. Then it will be up to a panel of 12 citizens to decide which version of events is the truth — and who killed Anna Repkina and left her body on the side of an isolated logging road.

“The victim, obviously, can’t testify, and nobody else was there,” Joslin said.

“Does the state prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt? That is ultimately the question the jury will have to answer.”

The prosecution and defense are scheduled to spend two days arguing about whether the evidence gathered through the search warrants can be shown during the trial.

Those arguments are set to take place July 1 and 2 before Judge Matthew Donohue in Benton County Circuit Court.

Donohue will also preside over a discussion of whether the state can present statements from the initial law enforcement interviews with Hargrove at trial. That hearing is scheduled to take all day Sept. 9.

On Oct. 14 Donohue will hold a hearing to determine if both sides are ready for the trial, which is set to begin Oct. 24 and take four weeks.

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Anthony Rimel covers weekend events, education, courts and crime and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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