BUFFALO, N.Y. - A Neptune Beach home where the body of a 53-year-old grandmother was found buried last week remained a taped-off crime scene on Monday.
And the woman's grandson, who is considered a person of interest in her death, remained locked in a juvenile detention facility in Buffalo, New York.
Logan Mott, 15, was caught in New York trying to cross into Canada, authorities said, after a warrant was issued for his arrest on suspicion of stealing his grandmother's car.
Mott was scheduled for a 2 p.m. hearing on Monday to talk about extradition possibilities, but the hearing was reportedly delayed until 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. He can waive or fight extradition back to Florida.
Authorities announced Monday morning that the remains of the woman found buried in the backyard of the Seagate Avenue home had been positively identified as Kristina French, who was reported missing Wednesday, along with Mott.
Police said the 53-year-old was found Friday buried in a shallow grave at the home of her son and grandson. French's son is a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office corrections lieutenant, sources told News4Jax.
Video from the Sky4 chopper showed that tents covering the backyard during the investigation have been removed. Freshly dug dirt was also evident.
The home remained taped off, although investigators were not at the home Monday.
Although French's remains were positively identified by the Medical Examiner. Police have not yet said how she died.
Captured teen denies involvement
Mott's attorney, Dominic Saraceno, said his client adamantly denies having anything to do with French's death.
“He was one of the most polite 15-year-old kids I’ve ever met,” Saraceno told CNN. “It would just be very shocking to me if someone from his background with his lack of criminal history could have gotten himself involved with something of this nature.”
Saraceno added that Mott, a Sandalwood High School freshman, was “very upset” by the news that his grandmother had been harmed.
Mott was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents about 7 p.m. Friday while driving the wrong way on Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York, according to the Sheriff's Office.
"Officers at the Peace Bridge encountered Logan Mott, who had made a wrong turn onto the bridge," U.S. Customs and Border Protection public affairs liaison Aaron Bowker said. "During the primary inspection, officers became aware that Mr. Mott was subject of a warrant for grand theft auto out of Florida."
Bowker told reporters at a press conference Saturday that Mott "had no idea where he was going."
"The only thing I have from the initial inspection was that it was a normal inspection at the border that we encounter. We encounter wrong turns all the time," Bowker said. "Obviously, he’s underage, but, believe it or not, that happens all the time as well."
Bowker said Mott was taken into custody without incident. After he was in custody, agents were advised that he was a person of interest in French's death.
"Mott has been detained and is currently being held by the Buffalo Police Department on the grand theft auto warrant," Bowker said. "CBP is working closing with the Buffalo Police Department and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to further their investigation."
According to records, Mott was driving on a learner's permit he received on Sept. 14.
Saraceno admitted that the ninth-grader driving to Canada “does not look good.”
“But I would caution the public not to jump to any conclusions or rush to judgment until a thorough investigation has been completed,” he said.
Mott’s mother, Carrie Campbell-Mott, told News4Jax that detectives flew up to meet him Saturday morning, but she’s not sure exactly how to get to him. She added that she has filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I've emailed and left voicemails with the Buffalo Border Patrol with no response," Campbell-Mott said. "The detective who has been working the case has not answered my texts or calls since last night. A detective told me last night he was flying out today."
Jacksonville attorney offers insight into case
There are a number of factors that will come into play with the case, and a local attorney weighed in on how it could unfold.
Mott is only being called as a person of interest in his grandmother's death. But if the teen is charged in the case, his age would likely be a big factor.
"If he is determined to be more of the culpable party, then it is expected that the state attorney’s office would file adult charges against him, very likely, because of the heinousness of the crime and the severity of the crime," said Jacksonville attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters, who is not affiliated with the case.
Mott’s mother has expressed concern that her son was being questioned in New York before obtaining an attorney, which Peoples-Waters said could come up as the case develops.
"In most cases, the detectives need to follow the same rules and make sure that they explain to the juvenile that they have the right to remain silent," Peoples-Waters said. "If there is a circumstance where they believe that the juvenile doesn't understand that, everything should stop."
She added that, from a legal perspective, the logistics of being in different state will also be an issue.
"I think, in New York, what they are attempting to do is maybe give him, you know, maybe more leeway and maybe more consideration of all of the issues that surround why he was located, obviously, in a state that was not his home state," Peoples-Waters said.
Campbell-Mott sent video to News4Jax on Monday, showing her 15-year-old son holding his younger half-brother and half-sister and talking with them.
The video showed a side of Mott that many people told News4Jax they recognized, adding that they have been shocked by what police say happened at the Neptune Beach home.
“He is a very nice person,” Sandalwood High student Camila Garcia said. “Very respectful to everybody, to his peers.”
A group of ROTC students at Sandalwood High said they didn’t know Mott and admitted that the case is the talk of the school.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me,” Jasmin Gerrie said.
Mott and French were reported missing Wednesday after they didn't show up at Jacksonville International Airport to pick up Mott's father.
The father returned to find the family's Seagate Avenue home ransacked, his son and his mother gone and their wallets missing, along with several guns, Campbell-Mott said.
“The front door was wide open, and the house had been gone through and the weapons were missing," Campbell-Mott told News4Jax.
Police said Friday that the gun safe appeared to have been damaged, and that there was evidence of "criminal violence" inside the home.
Campbell-Mott said her son's father got a text from French on Tuesday, confirming plans to pick him up at the airport. “We don't know for certain if that was her or not at this point,” she said.
Neither French nor Mott had been at work or school Monday and Tuesday, Campbell-Mott said.
On Friday afternoon, at the first news conference on the case, police disclosed that Mott and a car that looked like French's Dodge Dart had been spotted Thursday in Pennsylvania.
They dug up French's remains in the backyard on Friday afternoon, and he was found in New York later that night.
A former crime scene detective who was with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office for 30 years and worked more than 500 homicides told News4Jax that no two cases are alike.
“If you are doing it right, it is very painstaking,” Michael LaForte said.
He said it can take days, if not weeks, to fully clear a crime scene.
“You’ve got to remember that the majority of the evidence that you’re looking for, you can’t see,” he said. “(You've) got to perform some type of process that will make it visible to both the human eye and to a camera.”
LaForte, who now works for private forensics firm Knox and Associates, said authorities must get a search warrant, and then be extremely careful to preserve anything and everything that could be relevant to the case.
“It is very time-consuming. You just need to go layer by layer and excavate, pull out the dirt or the sand or whatever and sift through it and see what kind of evidence you can come up with,” LaForte said.
LaForte said police will keep details secret because they don’t want to spoil the case, especially if there’s a confession or if anyone else was involved.
“There’s always going to be some piece of physical evidence the suspect left behind, overlooked and didn't think about, and that’s what’s going to put the top on it,” LaForte said.
He said evidence inside and outside the home will likely lead investigators to the truth about what happened inside.
“Not cooperating is always a factor, so you are going to have to rely on the physical evidence,” LaForte said of Mott denying involvement. “And that’s where you’ve got to go really slow, be methodical in your approach.”
LaForte said it’s very important that detectives get the investigation right, especially because it will likely be a long court case.
The State Attorney’s Office has declined to comment on the active investigation.
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