The Payson Police Depart-ment has launched an internal investigation of how evidence was handled both before and during the Dr. Michael Lowe trial.
Before the trial started in November, a mysterious black file folder never logged by investigating officers was found on a detective’s desk.
The file contained a version of a will and trust central to the case, in which Lowe was charged with theft.
While the validity of the documents is not in question, the police chief is looking at where the file came from and how it was overlooked for so long.
So far, Chief Don Engler does not expect to file any criminal charges of wrongdoing. However, he is looking at anyone who had access to the evidence to determine if there was a clerical error or something more.
The documents under consideration relate to Lowe’s patient Alicia Christopherson, who died in 2004, leaving everything in her estate to the doctor.
Years after her death, the county attorney’s office charged Lowe with theft from a vulnerable adult, alleging Lowe had used his position to take advantage of Christopherson to become the sole benefactor.
After listening to testimony and reviewing hundreds of documents, a jury later acquitted Lowe of any wrongdoing.
The Payson Police Department led the investigation, collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses for months.
Now questions about evidence found before the trial have led the PPD to open an internal investigation. This inquiry does not affect Lowe’s acquittal.
The first document in question is a version of Christopherson’s will and trust.
Reportedly, Det. Mike McArnerny initially logged two versions of a sixth amendment to Christopherson’s will and trust leaving everything to Lowe.
The first version of the will was dated July 8, 2003 and signed by Christopherson, but not notarized, said Elizabeth Flynn, Lowe’s attorney.
“The second copy of the amendment appeared to be a copy of the first, except for additional handwriting at the bottom,” Flynn said. “The writing stated that Christopherson was re-affirming the document. Below the handwriting, Alicia had signed and the document was notarized on Aug. 5, 2004.”
Lowe was present for the Aug. 5 signing, but not at the July 8 signing.
A year after scanning both versions of the amendment and presenting it to Flynn and the prosecution, McArnerny found a third version among other evidence in his office, said Lacy Cooper, attorney with the Gila County Attorney’s Office.
McArnerny found the third version of the sixth amendment of the will several months before the trial started, Cooper said.
McArnerny was getting ready to send documents for handwriting analysis, when he found a black file folder among the paperwork, she said. McArnerny later told Cooper he had never seen the folder before.
The black file folder contained a third copy of the will leaving everything to Lowe, this one dated July 3, 2003, but also notarized, Cooper said.
McArnerny notified the prosecution’s office shortly after finding the file folder and had the contents scanned. Cooper then notified Flynn.
“McArnerny was very detailed and thorough about the collection of evidence,” Cooper said. “It was clear to everyone that that evidence was not in his possession before.”
Currently, police do not know how the folder ended up with the evidence or how McArnerny missed it for so long, Engler said.
During the trial, the jury saw all versions of the sixth amendment, including the July 3, 2003 form. The validity of this document is not in question.
“The significance of this third document is that Alicia had indeed signed her estate over to Dr. Lowe as early as one year before her death, and her signature was witnessed,” Flynn said.
“McArnerny was convinced that he had not just ‘missed’ this third copy after a year of going through the evidence.”
The Globe Police Department conducted an investigation to see if there was any criminal wrongdoing regarding the sixth amendment McArnerny found.
That investigation determined there was none, Engler said.
Engler is leading an internal, administrative investigation that is looking at a variety of people who had access to the evidence. Engler hopes to wrap it up soon.
Cooper does not believe McArnerny mismanaged the evidence.
While the notarized amendment made it into the trial, many of Christopherson’s medical records did not.
Online medical records Lowe had for Christopherson were reportedly lost due to a computer system failure in 2006, according to a police report.
Officers found some billing records and medical documents relating to Christopherson during a search at Lowe’s home on Pinegate, but never her complete medical file.
Officers also found documents relating to Christopherson’s will and trust, annuities, power of attorney and other financial records at Lowe’s home on West Black Forest, according to the police report.
While it seemed Christopherson’s medical records were lost for good, in the midst of the trial, some of her records were unearthed, Cooper said.
On the morning of the fourth day of the trial, Flynn contacted Cooper and said Lowe’s ex-wife, Heather Driscoll, had found a medical file relating to Christopherson, Cooper said. Reportedly, when Lowe went to give Heather Driscoll an alimony check, Driscoll turned the paperwork over to him, Cooper said.
She said she found it in the home office on Pinegate while cleaning, Cooper said.
Flynn asked Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill to allow the records into evidence, but Cooper objected due to late disclosure.
“We could not verify the authenticity of those documents,” she said.