This story begins with concerned neighbors and ends with a man found dead in the trunk of his car five days later at a Houston Police Department impound lot.
It was Friday, Jan. 27 when Houston police officers were called to 1713 West T.C. Jester Boulevard for a welfare check. Neighbors within the gated townhome community had noticed that a car was running in the home’s garage and the homeowner was not answering his phone.
When police officers entered the house, they did not find the homeowner, James Gerald Martin, III. Instead, they found Dana Ryssdal, a 35-year-old man from Oregon, who had sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Paramedics declared him dead at the scene.
The homeowner, Martin, and Ryssdal’s 2022 white Dodge Ram pickup were missing from the scene. On Sunday, Jan. 29, police asked the public to assist with finding Martin and the pickup. The next day, the pickup was found 12.5 miles from the scene of the crime in Houston’s South Union neighborhood.
Martin was still missing.
It was not until five days after the welfare check that resulted in the discovery of a crime scene that Martin was found. But the location was unusual. According to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science, Martin was discovered at the HPD vehicle impound lot. A Feb. 4 police statement simply says, “During the course of the investigation, detectives recovered another vehicle at the T.C. Jester residence. A man’s body was observed inside the vehicle on Wednesday (Feb. 1).”
It is unclear when the warrant was requested, if it was on Jan. 27 or later. The Harris County District Clerk’s office does not have a copy of the search warrant available—HPD did not file it with their office, nor are they required to do so—and the Houston Police Department’s media relations department did not have any information about the search warrant. What is clear is that Martin was in the trunk of his Toyota Prius from when it was first reported as running in the garage of his home. He was not discovered until five days later, after the car had been towed.
Pictured is Dana Ryssdal’s truck that police searched for in connection with the fatal shooting.
Houston Police Department
If the police could enter Martin’s car to turn off the ignition and then enter his home where they discovered Ryssdal, why would they need a search warrant to pop the trunk of the car? David Kwok, associate professor at the University of Houston Law Center, explains that it is all about police procedures.
For a property to be searched without a warrant there needs to be probable cause and exigent circumstances, for example, entering a home or car when someone’s life is at risk or if someone is destroying evidence. But there are other reasons why a warrant may not be needed. When the police entered Martin’s home for the welfare check, they did not need a warrant because of the “community caretaking” exception.
“The police are doing something to help the community out,” Kwok says. “When you’re investigating crime, they need a warrant. But when they’re like, ‘Hey, let me help you get that cat out of a tree,’ they don’t need a warrant to access someone’s private tree.”
Once the officers entered Martin’s home and discovered a crime, procedures shifted. But in terms of Martin, the statement says that detectives were unclear on his involvement in the case, whether it was as a victim or perpetrator. Because of this, the police “drafted a search warrant for the car, at the direction of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.”
As for the five-day waiting period between the crime scene discovery on Friday, Jan. 27 and finding Martin in the trunk of his Prius the following Wednesday, Kwok cannot say for sure if it should have taken that long for a search warrant to be issued. Weekends do not stop the justice system, as magistrates are “on-call” during those days for emergency warrants and other requests. Rather, Kwok says the length of time it takes for a search warrant to be issued is usually dependent on who is pushing for it.
“Five days might seem a little slow if there is serious urgency behind it,” Kwok concedes.
Between all the moving pieces—the Houston Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Harris County Magistrate Court—it is unclear whose fault, if anyone’s, it is that it took five days for Martin to be found. Many questions remain about how he got there, as well as why both he and the first victim, Dana Ryssdal, were murdered. This is still an ongoing investigation, according to HPD.