Court Rules It Unconstitutional To Charge Woman Who Dumped Friend's Body In Lake
Coeur d’Alene, ID – A Spokane woman who dumped her friend’s dead body into Lake Coeur d’Alene in 2015 cannot be prosecuted for failing to notify police of the woman’s death, because doing so would have violated her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the Idaho Supreme Court has decided.
The court affirmed an earlier ruling made by Idaho First District Judge Richard Christensen.
Judge Christensen had dismissed the felony charge of failure to notify of a death that had been filed against Spokane resident Laura Akins.
According to court documents, Akins and Lacy Drake transported the body of 27-year-old Kimberly Sue Vezina from a residence in Spokane, Washington, to Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho on Oct. 15, 2015, after Vezina was found dead from an apparent overdose.
The home where Vezina died had been the target of a police raid the month prior, and was known to be a frequent gathering place for drug users, The Coeur d’Alene Press reported.
Investigators later learned that Vezina, a known drug dealer and addict, went to the home with a methamphetamine dealer shortly after she was released from jail on Oct. 14, 2015.
That night, she overdosed on morphine and amphetamines, and her body was found in the bathroom the following morning.
No one in the residence reported Vezina’s death to police, mostly due to the fact that many of them had extensive criminal histories.
Drake and Akins had been arrested fewer times, so the rest of the people in the house designated them to dispose of Vezina’s body.
With the assistance of other people in the home, Akins and Drake wrapped Vezina’s body in a shower curtain and a blue tarp, secured it with nylon rope, and loaded it into the back of a stolen SUV.
The women then drove to Akins’ relative’s home near Fuller’s Bay.
They were given a bag of cement to weigh the body down, but couldn’t figure out how to attach it to the tarp. Instead, they dumped Vezina off of the Fuller’s Landing dock without the cement.
Akins and Drake then burglarized a nearby home, where they stole tools and a .22 caliber pistol.
On Nov. 9, 2015, fishermen spotted a hand sticking out of a tarp that had floated to the water’s surface near Fuller’s Landing, and contacted the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.
Akins was arrested in August of 2016, and Drake was arrested the following month, The Coeur d’Alene Press reported.
Both women were charged for failing to notify police of Vezina’s death, and Drake pleaded guilty to the offense in May, according to The Coeur d’Alene Press.
She was sentenced to 10 years in prison with five years fixed, but the judge allowed her to attend a “rider program” to determine whether she was a good candidate for probation.
Akins pleaded guilty on an unlawful entry offense for her role in the home burglary, and was ordered to serve 30 days in jail.
But her attorneys argued that the felony charge for covering up the death violated Akins’ Fifth Amendment rights, and that she could not have notified police about the location of the body without also telling them that she had destroyed evidence, The Coeur d’Alene Press reported.
Christensen agreed, and dismissed the charge against her, at which point prosecutors filed an appeal.
“The problem with this prosecution rests in the information that Akins was at that time required to report,” the Supreme Court ruling read. “The parties agree that at a minimum the language of [the law] requires reporting of two pieces of information: (1) the existence of a dead body and (2) the location of that body.”
“At all times for which the statute was in effect against Akins, the body was either in the rear cargo area of the SUV she occupied or in Lake Coeur d’Alene,” the court said. “Unlike the fishermen who eventually found the body and notified law enforcement, Akins did not have an ability to report her knowledge as to the existence and location of that body without informing law enforcement that she had carried it across the state line in an SUV she occupied and disposed of it in a lake.”
“Akins would have effectively admitted to her commission of the State’s charge of destroying evidence…if she had reported it,” the court document continued.
“We find it difficult to invent a more substantial hazard of self-incrimination than the one that was actually presented here,” the decision read. “As the facts of this case are applied, we hold that Akins’s prosecution under the statute would violate her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.”