Search & Seizure, Open Fields Doctrine


Owyhee County is located in the south west corner of Idaho. The Owyhee Mountains fill the west portion of Owyhee County. Mud Flat Field and Marmaduke Spring are located in the Owyhee Mountains, in the west central portion of Owyhee County, south of South Mountain and north of Juniper Mountain. The Mud Flat Field is approximately two miles long from North to South. The south end of the Mud Flat Field borders the Mud Flat road. Over this road one can travel to Jordan Valley, Oregon, from Grandview, Idaho. From the Mud Flat road, a person enters the Mud Flat through the locked gate or through another, unlocked, gate. The unlocked gate is approximately 25 yards east of the locked gate. In July 1995, a number of persons, including *** Bennett, had keys to the locked gate. Near the south end of the field is a set of corrals. Defendant *** Tobias’ cabin is approximately a quarter mile east of the corrals. The cabin is not visible from the corrals. In the summer of 1995 the defendants Tobias and *** Black, were running cattle in the Mud Flat field and adjoining fields.Marmaduke Spring is located about a quarter mile west of the northwest end of the Mud Flat Field, over a saddle from the field.

On July 21, 1995, an Idaho Air National Guard helicopter pilot, *** Brummett, flew a mission over the Owyhee Mountains. While flying over Marmaduke Spring, Brummett saw a number of dead cows. Brummett initially observed the cows from the air; he then landed his helicopter and inspected the cows on foot. Brummett found *** Bennett’s truck parked near the north end of the Mud Flat Field. The truck was approximately a quarter mile east and over a ridge from the dead cows and the spring. Bennett was not at his truck. Brummett left a note on *** Bennett’s truck after he inspected the cows. The note identified the location of the massacred cows.

When Bennett came back to his truck and read the note he walked over the hill to examine the cows. Because Bennett ran cattle on the ranch adjacent to and west of the Mud Flat Field, and had cattle in the area, he was afraid that the cows might have been his own. He found a number of swollen dead cows. What he saw caused him to leave and contact the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO).

At approximately 6:00 p.m. on July 21, 1995 Bennett returned to the Mud Flat Field and Marmaduke Spring. He brought the Owyhee County Sheriff, Tim Nettleton, Owyhee County Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Bish and an Idaho Deputy Brand Inspector, Chuck Hall, with him. They got onto the Mud Flat field through the locked gate using Bennett’s key. They inspected the dead cows. The cattle had been shot through the head and were lying on their left sides or were on their bellies. Each had at least one ear removed and each had an 11 inch by 11 inch (approximate) patch of hide missing from the right shoulder; The significance of the removal of the ear is that a numbered (“Bangs”) tag is attached to the ear. The owner of cattle can be determined by the tag even if the brand is destroyed Some of the cows had bled. The cows were tentatively identified as *** King’s. Gordon King’s brand is a “Heart-K” on the right shoulder; exactly where the hide had been cut from the cows. The cows appeared to have had calves nurse them after they had been killed. After inspecting the cows, Bennett, Nettleton and Hall went to the Mud Flat Corral and found Tobias. They told him what they were doing and asked him whether he had seen anyone in the area during the past few days. He denied that he had.

The following day, July 22, 1995, law enforcement officers, lab technicians and citizens returned to the Marmaduke Spring area to try to figure out what happened. During that day *** King found a Charolais cross calf in the Mud Flat Field. This calf had an open wound on its right shoulder from where a “Heart-K” brand had been skinned. The calf had a new “T-cross”...
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