CROWN POINT — Prosecutors dropped two murder charges linked to a double homicide in New Chicago last year after several issues regarding evidence were raised during bail hearings, a defense attorney said.
Teal L. Cross, 26, of Hammond, had been scheduled to appear Thursday for the last in a series of hearings on his petition to let bail.
Defense attorney Jamise Perkins filed a petition to let bail in May, and several evidentiary hearings were held between May 9 and July 3. Questions about whether search warrants were properly returned, whether photo lineups were conducted appropriately and other possible problems with evidence arose during the hearings, she said.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Pro Tempore Kathleen Sullivan canceled Thursday's bail hearing and dismissed the murder charges after Lake County Supervisory Deputy Prosecutor Eric Randall filed a motion seeking dismissal because "the state intends to refile this matter at a later date."
The evidence issues "clearly pointed to Mr. Cross's innocence, in my opinion," Perkins said.
"I'm happy for my client," she said. "He wants to try and put this behind him."
Cross remained in custody Wednesday on $50,000 bail in a drug case stemming from his arrest in February on the murder charges. He's accused of possessing cocaine.
He also remains charged with counterfeiting, forgery, fraud and other counts in a 2017 case out of Hobart. Cross posted bond in that case before his arrest on the murder charges.
A 'circumstantial' case
Cross was accused of fatally shooting Manuel F. Alfaro, 52, and Heather Rayner, 39, in April 2018 inside Alfaro's home in the 300 block of Van Buren Avenue in New Chicago. Rayner was shot in the face as she ate a slice of pie, and Alfaro was found on the floor of the same room with dried blood around his head, court records state.
Phone records showed Alfaro had been communicating with a man named "Toby," whom police alleged was Cross. The individual had become increasingly upset over drug debt owned by Alfaro, whose last call was with "Toby," according to court records.
Police learned "Toby" also had talked to a woman with whom officers were familiar, and she told investigators she knew the man from Wiggle's Gentleman's Club in Hammond. She said she knew the man as "Uno" and provided police with a SnapChat photo, which a Hammond officer recognized as Cross, records said.
When police searched Cross' car, they found a birthday card addressed to him from a woman who later told authorities she recognized Alfaro's house. She said she thought she had been riding along with Cross when he sold drugs to Rayner there, according to court records.
The case was investigated by New Chicago and Lake County sheriff's police, with assistance from the FBI's Gang Response Investigative Team task force.
Perkins said she had not addressed her concerns about cellphone records before the case was dismissed. The case was "circumstantial at best," she said.
The Lake County prosecutor's office did not immediately respond Wednesday afternoon to questions about the case.
In a motion filed in early June, Perkins wrote police presented a witness with an unnecessarily suggestive photo lineup in May 2019.
When initially shown a photo lineup in June 2018, the witness did not pick out Cross as the man the witness had seen entering Alfaro's home before the homicides.
Just before a bail hearing in June, authorities presented the witness with a second photo lineup and the witness identified Cross as a suspect, records said.
"It appears the defendant's photograph may be the only photograph that is the same as the photographs that were shown to (the witness) on June 4, 2018," the defendant's motion says.
The witness testified in a bail hearing he had seen Cross's photo published with media reports about the case before reviewing the second photo lineup, Perkins said.
DNA results still pending
The returns for a number of search warrants executed in the case were not provided to the defense, Perkins said.
"I don't know if the state was still in the process of trying to locate that evidence," she said.
Perkins said prosecutors had sought to delay Cross' trial because they had not yet received results from DNA testing.
A judge pro tempore granted the state's request to take a DNA sample from Cross in early June. Authorities typically use that sample as a standard for comparison with DNA taken from items found at the crime scene.
Perkins anticipates prosecutors will refile the case if DNA on any of the items police collected at Alfaro's home in April 2018 link Cross to the crime scene, she said.
However, a neighbor testified during a bail hearing that Alfaro's home "was like a McDonald's drive-through" because of drug activity, which could result in DNA from multiple individuals being present at the scene, Perkins said.
A coroner's investigator also testified he could not rule out the possibility of two shooters because of the "wound track" for each victim, she said. Rayner was shot while sitting in a chair, and Alfaro was shot in the same room, she said.