FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) — Defense attorneys for Cody Wise are hoping to bar testimony from a confidential informant who they say is a key witness in Wise’s murder case.
Drew Ledbetter, Wise’s attorney, also alleges the Benton County Sheriff’s Office is hiding or has destroyed evidence that could show the informant has credibility issues, according to a motion filed Tuesday (Aug. 28) in Washington County Circuit Court.
Ledbetter said the informant’s text messages with former detective Miguel Cordova were selectively edited to show her in a positive light and that she spoke of being “loyal” to the sheriff’s office, according to the motion.
Cordova resigned in January 2015 after he admitted to exchanging sexually charged text messages with the informant.
Ledbetter said the sheriff’s office turned over everything related to Cordova’s internal investigation except his phone records, which were listed as being copied to a CD in the sheriff’s office’s files.
On Aug. 7, a Washington County circuit judge gave the sheriff’s office 10 days to turn over the records.
The next day, Lt. David Undiano wrote in a letter to the Washington County prosecutor’s office the records couldn’t be found, and that neither Cordova nor the deputy who handled the internal investigation — Capt. Kenny Paul — were sure if Cordova’s phone was ever imaged or forensically examined.
Undiano wrote that it was possible the phone was never imaged because Cordova chose to resign and the investigation may have been discontinued.
Undiano also wrote that “it would not be unusual or considered unreasonable for detectives to delete an image file or digital data for a resolved investigation which was not criminal in nature.”
However, Dennis Schumacher, a former forensic examiner at the sheriff’s office told Undiano that he “remembered imaging Cordova’s device” and gave a copy of the forensic image to Paul, according to the letter.
Ledbetter argued against Undiano’s reasoning, adding that it’s “not believable that every digital file made a part of this internal investigation was preserved except for one single item,” according to the motion.
Ledbetter also cited a recent text message from Schumacher, who said he “placed the data on two disc, one went into the internal investigation folder and the second one went into my case folder along with a copy of my forensic report.”
Schumacer also told Ledbetter the case folder “should be with all of the other cases in the Cyber Crime office. If it is not, then someone in the office did something with it,” according to the motion.
Ledbetter argued that the informant’s text message with Cordova “contain material evidence” affecting her credibility, “making the complete record of conversations on (Cordova’s phone) all the more relevant.”
Matt Durrett, Washington County prosecutor, filed a response Wednesday (Aug. 28) arguing that any potential interaction between Cordova and the informant — proper or not — happened before the murder and is irrelevant.
Durrett declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Messages left for Ledbetter and the sheriff’s office weren’t immediately returned.
Wise, 29, is charged with capital murder in connection with the 2015 killing of 53-year-old Ronnie Kultgen.
Wise’s trial is set for Sept. 24 in Madison County Circuit Court.
Wise was arrested Aug. 18 for allegedly trying to buy methamphetamine in Siloam Springs. He was being held Wednesday on a $25,000 bond.