HAMPTON, Va. – “At first, we thought she was a victim.” That’s what Trooper Maurice Lockett testified in a Hampton courtroom on Thursday, during a pretrial hearing for Tonya Slaton.
Lockett was called to the stand for the first time since Slaton was charged with second-degree murder in her son’s death. According to police, Slaton is responsible for killing her teenage son sometime in 2004 or 2005.
The teenager was missing for about ten years, until his remains were found in the back of Slaton’s vehicle in June 2015.
Lockett was called to court because Slaton’s defense attorneys filed a motion asking the judge to suppress all evidence gathered in the case, including the human remains.
The judge denied the motion, but not before hearing explicit descriptions about the traffic stop in which the human remains were recovered.
According to Lockett, he was training with Trooper Chad Dermyer the day they pulled Slaton over.
Dermyer was shot and killed earlier this year during a field training exercise in Richmond. Prosecutors would not comment on whether or not Dermyer’s death has hurt the trial process.
Lockett testified both he and Dermyer noticed an orange registration sticker that was expired. “He asked me if I wanted to pull the vehicle over,” Lockett told the courtroom. “I said yes.”
Lockett told the courtroom Dermyer made the initial contact with Slaton, who couldn’t provide her registration. The troopers spent about “one hour” trying to locate different VIN numbers on the vehicle, even using YouTube videos to find where “secret” VIN numbers were located.
“We thought she was a victim of a VIN swap at first,” Lockett testified, who also noted the VIN numbers appeared to have been tampered with. “We thought someone stole a vehicle, switched the VIN numbers, and sold it to [Slaton].”
Lockett told the courtroom another reason they spent so long looking for different VIN numbers was because Slaton was from out of town, and they didn’t want to inconvenience her.
According to Lockett, when troopers cannot establish an owner of the vehicle, they are required to tow it.
Before the vehicle can be towed however, troopers have to take inventory of the vehicle. “It’s meant to protect us, to protect the tow truck driver, and ultimately protect the driver,” Lockett said.
Lockett told the courtroom Dermyer inspected the car, while he wrote down notes on a state issued form. According to Lockett, that from was misplaced the same day the human remains were found, and has not been located since.
During inventory, Lockett said Dermyer noticed a bleach stain the in the backseat. “[Trooper Dermyer] said the vehicle was ‘exceptionally clean’ for it’s age,” Lockett said.
During inventory, Lockett testified the troopers were required to inspect whether or not there was a spare tire in the truck of the vehicle. That’s when Dermyer ultimately found the trash bags containing the remains of Slaton’s teenage son.
Slaton is expected back in court on August 19th for another preliminary hearing.