Published Friday August 6, 2010
Details revealed in boy's slaying
By Juan Perez Jr.
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Angela Manns asked for a cup of coffee before her interview inside a gray room on the fourth floor of Omaha Police Headquarters.
The cops had pulled her over for speeding moments after she rolled past her house at 2857 Ida St., saw the cruisers parked outside and bolted.
They had already found her son's rotting corpse inside the house, in the bathtub.
Manns agreed to go downtown to talk. She wasn't under arrest.
Now a video camera rolled while homicide Detective Christopher Spencer asked questions. He wanted to know about Manns' background and her medications.
He wanted answers about the whereabouts of her 12-year-old son, Michael Belitz.
Manns said the boy was in White House, Tenn., with her half brother, Jimmy Arbogast. She told the detective how to reach him.
The detective took Manns' cell phone and looked up the number himself. Arbogast picked up the line this time.
But he told the detective he hadn't seen Manns, or her youngest son, for at least three years.
These and other details from the first few hours of the Michael Belitz homicide investigation pulled from court testimony, documents and investigation files are now at the center of a legal battle that could affect what information jurors hear if Manns ever faces trial.
A little more than one year after the homicide case began, the defense team assigned to the 47-year-old woman wants Douglas County District Judge Mark Ashford to throw out all of the authorities' findings from the first few hours of the investigation.
The defense believes the discovery of Michael's body, statements Manns made to police and evidence seized from subsequent search warrants were all obtained without sufficient probable cause. Her eventual arrest was also unconstitutional, the defense argues.
Manns said nothing aloud during a court hearing Thursday. She occasionally whispered to her defense team. She sat alone in the courtroom during a recess, shoulders trembling as she drank a cup of water.
“My argument would be that at the time she was detained, there was no probable cause to detain her,” said Gary Olson, an assistant public defender for Douglas County. Arguments on the motion to suppress the evidence will resume next week.
Officer Philip Anson was the first person inside Manns' white house on July 12, 2009.
He was barely out of the police academy that Sunday afternoon, training in the field with a seasoned officer, when a neighbor called 911 because she hadn't seen the mother or son for a week. Another recruit-officer team joined Anson and his partner at the scene.
“That's when we … both noticed just a horrible, strong odor coming through the windows,” Anson said in court on Thursday. “I've never smelled anything like that before.”
Every window was blackened by flies, he said. No one answered when the officers banged on doors and windows.
“We just knew something wasn't right,” he said. The officers contacted their commanding sergeant, who authorized their entry into the house.
Anson used a chair to boost himself through a bedroom window on the house's west side and was immediately swarmed by flies as he entered.
He drew his pistol, looked to his left and glanced inside the adjoining bathroom. Something inside the tub was covered with a black plastic garbage bag.
“Are you OK?” Anson said his fellow officers asked him once he unlocked the front door. “You look like a ghost.”
A human leg and foot, both rotted almost to the bone, protruded from the plastic and black water in the tub. Kitty litter had been spread on the corpse. There were buckets in the bathroom, too, along with a small hatchet.
The officers searched the rest of the house for anyone else, then exited to secure the scene for homicide investigators.
“I've never seen anything like that before,” Anson said. Manns was detained a couple of hours later.
The items authorities found inside her maroon Dodge Stratus included unopened bags of kitty litter, bug spray, a filled 2.5-gallon gas can and a bottle of Prozac.
Inside the house they found rubber gloves and surgical masks, fly swatters, safety glasses and knives. They also found letters from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and her bankruptcy attorneys.
Spencer, the homicide detective, testified that after speaking with Manns' half brother, he advised her of her Miranda rights.
She said she understood.
He continued to press her about her son's whereabouts.
“Am I under arrest?” Manns said.
Then she asked for a lawyer.
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