Evidence at murder scene to be allowed at jury trial

September 22, 2023
Accomack County Circuit Court C
By Linda Cicoira

A motion to withhold evidence from a jury that was collected from the scene of a murder that occurred near Craddockville in 2016 was denied Thursday in Accomack Circuit Court.

The case involves the death of 41-year-old Eric Clifford Rhatigan, of Eastville, whose body was found in a “dirt field” about “145 feet” from Davis Wharf Road, on June 15, 2016. Court records state Rhatigan died from multiple blunt force traumas to the head, neck, and torso. A shoe impression at the site, “indicated that at least one other individual was in the field” with Rhatigan. A cell phone that was found near the body belonged to the victim. There was also a wallet at the scene.

The evidence in dispute was two cigarette butts that were confiscated from the scene by the late Lt. Gerald Goga of the Accomack County Sheriff’s Office. Those items are crucial to the case, Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan said.

In the end, Judge W. Revell III ruled for Morgan. A trial date has not been set.

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Sixty-year-old Joseph Lewis Tykot III, of Painter, is accused of the second-degree murder of Rhatigan. Tykot has been free on bond and awaiting trial since October 2021. At that bond hearing, Morgan disclosed that a cigarette butt, found to have Tykot’s DNA on it, was found near Rhatigan’s body.

Defense lawyer Mario Lorello argued Thursday that there was a break in the chain of custody of the evidence involving the cigarette butts. He said a report states the bag was not sealed.

Morgan contended that the bag was sealed when it was brought to the lab by Lt. Goga and that it was unsealed by the person who performed the tests.

The “analysts opened the envelope,” Morgan said. “We have a receipt for both ways for delivery.” The prosecutor said the date on the envelope “was on the same time frame that Goga delivered the evidence to the lab. We have to say no tampering (occurred). We have to rely on evidence. We argue that it is sufficient. It did not go through numerous hands.”

Sgt. Patrick Coulter, of the Onley Police Department, was a deputy assisting Goga at the murder scene. He testified that he saw Goga collect the evidence, take pictures of the evidence, place the evidence in bags, initial them, and then seal the bags.

The defense said it was the “first time we heard that Coulter saw what was collected. That would mean Coulter would make an assumption. He was not present when it was taken to the sheriff’s office or to forensic science.  He can’t just assume these things.”

     Lorello questioned Coulter extensively about his memory. Coulter told what he saw and other things that he remembered about that day several years ago. He said that he had not discussed the issue prior to the proceeding.

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