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Validity of search warrant argued at hearing in Lewiston sex-torture case

LOCKPORT – A long list of evidence – much of it linked to allegations of torture and sexual abuse – were unveiled Monday in the sex abuse and torture case against Iver J. Phallen, a Lewiston inventor and retired industrialist.

Items such as ropes with metal endings, zip ties, hooks, a scalpel and other medical instruments, darts, pliers and clamps were found in the house, as well as a metal box with bare wires a victim said Phallen used to electrocute her to point of unconsciousness, were found in the trunk of Phallen’s vehicle.

But Phallen’s defense tried to put holes in the evidence-gathering process and the legality of the search warrant that uncovered these items in an admissibility hearing in Niagara County Court on Monday.

Phallen, 67, of Carriage Drive, faces three life sentences, on a total of 209 charges after three women told police they were beaten, hanged and sexually abused by Phallen.

Questioning Monday centered around the first woman to come forward on Sept. 26, a 24-year-old striptease dancer, who claims she was tortured and abused sexually on Sept. 25 and 26. She first told police she and another woman named “Morgan,” whom police never found, left the Colonie Lodge in Buffalo with Phallen to go get ice cream in Lewiston.

She later admitted in a sworn statement that she went with Phallen to have sexual relations for money.

Phallen’s attorney James W. Grable Jr. contends that evidence that the witness lied prior to making an official statement should not have been omitted when requesting a search warrant from the judge.

“A material omission may have changed the outcome,” said Grable.

He also questioned why Town of Lewiston Judge Thomas J. Sheeran, who eventually made himself available by phone from his vacation in Florida, was not used for an oral warrant, rather than going to Town of Cambria Justice Amel S. Jowdy Jr., who issued the warrant.

Lewiston Police Sgt. Frank Previte, one of a half-dozen witnesses to testify at the hearing, spent the entire day on the stand being questioned by Deputy District Attorney Holly Sloma and Grable.

Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon said they would have to continue on Wednesday and noted they would likely need a lot more time to finish the hearing.

Previte, whose department was first on the scene, described viewing the victim at Erie County Medical Center with ligature marks on her neck and “a lot of injuries on her body.”

He described the search for Phallen, known by the victim only as “Jay.”

He said they got security video from the Colonie, and also located the suspect’s house on a real estate website. A DMV photo was used to positively identify him.

New York State Police then obtained a search warrant.

Previte said a State Police forensic team led the search. He said that as he went through the house, he found a black folding table in a bedroom closet that the victim described as a table used to lay out the items.

He also found a black duffel bag in a closet.

The bag was open when he found it, Previte said.

The bag contained various ropes, pliers, and sadomasochistic items, Previte said on the stand.

“They were items she specifically described being here,” said Previte.

Previte told Deputy District Attorney Holly Sloma that a few days later, police got a warrant to search a car matching a description of Phallen’s given by the victim.

In the trunk, police found a silver metal device with a dial and wires on the top of it that the victim described as an “electrocution device used on her until the point she blacked out.”