Updated: Sep 5, 2019
By Joe Johnson
A Western Judicial Circuit judge has denied a man’s request for a hearing to determine the legality of statements he made to police about a murder he allegedly committed nearly two decades ago at a westside apartment complex.
Abdus Salaam Laroche, 35, of Decatur, allegedly fatally stabbed Pamela Crisler during a 2002 burglary of an apartment at College Place Apartments, which has since been renamed University Oaks. Athens-Clarke County police developed no suspects and the case went cold.
A break in the case came after Laroche in 2017 was convicted in the Atlanta area for felony copyright infringement for selling bootlegged DVDs, Athens-Clarke County police said.
As part of a plea bargain, police said that Laroche received probation and agreed to supply a DNA sample. That sample was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national DNA database, and police in Athens were subsequently notified that Laroche’s DNA matched genetic evidence found at the Crisler murder scene.
Police arrested Laroche for Crisler’s alleged murder on May 8, 2018.
He apparently made an incriminating statement to police because his attorney requested that the presiding judge hold a hearing to determine if the statement was made voluntarily.
In an order filed Tuesday in Clarke County Superior Court, Judge Eric Norris denied the request.
“Under the totality of the circumstances and by a preponderance of the evidence, the statement was made freely, knowingly and voluntarily, without coercion, duress, fear of injury or suggestions of leniency or reward, “the judge said in the order.
Norris further noted that “the tone of the conversation, lack of handcuffs and all attendant circumstances show the defendant was not in custody” when making the statement.
In addition to any statements he might have made to police, court records indicate that Laroche confessed to a witness that he killed Crisler, a 49-year-old mental health and substance abuse counselor.
In a motion to compel the trial appearance and testimony of Ezra Smith of Woodland Hills, Calif, Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney James Chafin stated that “(Laroche) told Mr. Smith that he had broken into an apartment and this lady woke up and he had to kill her. Mr. Laroche said he put the knife to her throat and killed her.”
Western Judicial Circuit Judge Eric Norris in July issued a subpoena requiring Smith to appear as a state’s witness in Laroche’s trial.
Another witness subpoena was issued for Valrico, Fla., resident Charles Elam.
Authorities said that Crisler was killed in Elam’s apartment while he was out of state.
In a motion for the subpoena, Elam stated that after returning from visiting with his sister in Florida, Elam noticed a “piece of equipment” was missing from his apartment and that Elam spoke with a neighbor “who saw a person removing the equipment from the apartment on the night of the murder.”
Norris had ordered the witnesses to appear for a trial that was supposed to have begun Aug. 26.
However, defense attorney Benjamin Pearlman was granted a continuance on his argument that, among other things, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was still testing DNA evidence recovered at the crime scene, and if prosecutors planned to use results of the testing at trial he would need to retain his own expert to review test results.
The trial is now tentatively scheduled for Sept. 23.