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Lack of search warrant damages case against man accused of stalking Sandra Bullock

Lack of search warrant damages case against man accused of stalking Sandra Bullock
Sandra Bullock arrives at the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood in March. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Within days of arresting a man who broke into Sandra Bullock's home, forcing her to call 911 from a bedroom closet, prosecutors charged the accused stalker with illegal possession of machine guns and other weapons he had stockpiled in his home.

Now, two years after his arrest, much of the case against Joshua James Corbett appears to be falling apart because of a warrantless search of his home by Los Angeles Police Department detectives.

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Last week, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled the cache of high-powered weapons that the LAPD's Threat Management Unit recovered from Corbett's home cannot be used as evidence against him.

The decision could now result in 24 of 26 felony charges against Corbett being tossed out unless prosecutors can overturn the decision on appeal. If the weapons charges are dismissed, Corbett will face only burglary and stalking charges.

"We are disappointed with this decision," LAPD Capt. Andrew Neiman said. "They obtained verbal consent from the suspect before conducting the search.… They acted in good faith."

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Edmund W. Clarke Jr. chose to exclude the evidence after determining the LAPD violated Corbett's constitutional rights in custody. The judge found that Corbett was forced to give detectives permission to search his Montrose home without a search warrant. Corbett also provided investigators with the combination to a safe that contained more than 30 weapons, after spending several hours in custody and repeatedly requesting a lawyer.

Detectives had known, through records, that Corbett was a onetime hunter and had a gun permit from another state. They suspected he kept weapons and questioned him repeatedly about it while in custody.

Det. Jeffrey Dunn told Corbett he would find the guns one way or another and that if he did not tell him where the guns were he would be forced to go the suspect's parents' home,  according to a transcript of the recording. "You want me to go there with a pry bar and battering ram and disrupt your mother and father's life to get your guns?" the detective asked.

Police arrested Corbett on June 8, 2014, after Bullock was awakened by a strange knocking sound coming from her third-floor workout room. She peeked out of her bedroom door and saw a man clad in black sneaking down the second-floor corridor.

Fearing for her safety, she retreated to her bedroom, hid in the closet and called 911. "I am in my closet. I have a safe door," Bullock said during the 911 call. "I'm locked in my closet right now."

Corbett was arrested at the scene by LAPD officers. They found photos of the actress in his pockets, a letter portraying himself as her husband and a concealed weapon permit from Utah.

After Corbett's arrest, detectives told him they needed to obtain his weapons to comply with an emergency protection order.

Corbett was not carrying a weapon when he climbed over a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and onto Bullock's property about 5 on a Sunday morning.

Corbett's attorney, Steve Sitkoff, had filed motions challenging the evidence and said that star-struck detectives tossed aside his client's rights, including his right to remain silent.

Jane Robison, a  Los Angeles County district attorney's spokeswoman, said the office's appellant unit is reviewing the ruling and deciding whether to challenge it. Prosecutors had argued that detectives would have inevitably discovered the weapons during further investigation. But the judge rejected that argument.

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Sitkoff said his client needs mental health treatment, not incarceration, and that is why his legal team is fighting so hard to remove the gun charges.

Sitkoff said unless the prosecution successfully appeals, the case will be mostly gutted.

In court testimony, Corbett recalled his interview with Dunn. "He just kept telling me, 'I want them guns.'" He said he told the detective, "I don't want to talk to you." Corbett testified that he cooperated with investigators out of fear.

Sitkoff said that once the other charges are dismissed, defense attorneys will seek a reduction in Corbett's $2-million bail. He has been held in the county jail since his 2014 arrest.

When Corbett was arrested he was holding a notebook with a love letter to Bullock. In it, he wrote, "you are my wife by law, the law of God and belong to me." Security footage showed that Corbett had been to the home three nights in a row before his arrest.

In a transcript of Corbett's interview with Dunn, he said he knew he had done wrong and told him why he went to Bullock's home. "I did not go there to hurt her," he said. "I don't think people protect her well enough."

Follow me on Twitter at @lacrimes.

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