CARIBOU, Maine — An attorney for a Limestone teenager accused of manslaughter in connection with the death of his 3-month-old daughter in 2009 argued Wednesday that statements his client made in three separate interviews with police should be thrown out.
Prosecutors countered that Maine State Police detectives followed proper protocol, did not deny now 19-year-old Nicklas Jones any of his constitutional rights, and that all of his statements should be admissible in court.
Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy said he would accept additional written case law from both sides before issuing a ruling.
Jones was 17 when Joselyn Jones died. The father is being tried as an adult and has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge.
Jones was living with the 18-year-old mother of the baby when he allegedly grew frustrated and threw his daughter toward the crib. The baby’s body missed the crib, and she died four days later of blunt force trauma to the head. Jones was arrested but has been free on bail since early 2010.
Jones’ attorney, Matthew Hunter of Presque Isle, told Cuddy that Jones’ statements should be suppressed on the grounds that each of the police-led interviews amounted to custodial interrogation without Jones having been read his Miranda rights, and that his statements were involuntary under both Maine and federal law. He also argued that detectives failed to honor Jerene Rosenbrook’s request for an attorney for her son during the third interview.
Under questioning by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, now retired state police Detective Dale Keegan testified that Jones always freely agreed to speak to him, and that he reminded Jones multiple times during each interview that he did not have to talk, wasn’t under arrest and was free to leave.
Keegan, now a police officer in Fort Fairfield, also testified that Jones said he did not want his mother present during the first interview, and that when Rosenbrook arrived a short time later, she gave permission for her son to speak to Keegan. He said the teenager agreed to participate in a second interview at Jones’ apartment and that his mother also consented. During the third interview on May 1, 2009, Keegan said the two agreed to stop in at the state police barracks on their way to Bangor, and that he again repeatedly reminded them they did not have to speak to police. He added that both left the barracks several times and then came back inside to talk to police, and that he always made sure they understood he hadn’t asked them to come back inside and that they were free to remain silent and leave.
He said he did not read Jones his Miranda rights during any of the interviews, because the teen was not in custody or restrained in any way, and police did not have probable cause to arrest him.
“I told him [during the third interview] that no matter what he told me that day, I was not going to arrest him, he was still going to leave [for Bangor],” Keegan testified.
He said Rosenbrook agreed with him during the May 1 interview that her son was not telling him the truth and acknowledged that he asked her to talk to her son outside of the barracks “as a parent.” She eventually re-entered the barracks and told detectives what her son had told her. Attorneys did not discuss what Jones said to his mother during the hearing, but court documents indicated Jones had admitted to Rosenbrook that he had caused Joselyn’s death unintentionally.
Rosenbrook testified Wednesday that when she tried to enter the room where her son and Keegan were meeting for the first interview at the Caribou hospital where Joselyn Jones was treated, the door was locked. Keegan testified that one door leading to the hospital’s emergency room was locked, but the door to the lobby was unlocked. Rosenbrook said Keegan never told her she could come into that room to be with her son. She said she did not explicitly give permission for her son to participate in the second interview, but said she had left the decision up to Jones.
She added that she sat in on the May 1 interview at the barracks, and at one point said, “I think we’d like to get an attorney,” before both left and then returned to speak with the detectives again. Keegan testified that he again reminded them they did not have to speak to police, but they remained in the room.
Attorney Hunter argued that Rosenbrook was acting as an agent of the police when Keegan asked her to talk to her son outside of the barracks, which is a charge Assistant Attorney General Benson denied. Hunter said an emotional, overwhelmed Jones felt that he was in custody during the first interview because one of the doors to the room at the hospital was locked. Hunter said Jones felt the same way during the second interview, which took place at Jones’ apartment, because police told him they had found marijuana plants and marijuana roaches.
“During the [third] May 1 interview, he was in custody,” Hunter insisted. “He was the sole focus of the investigation, they had probable cause to arrest him, it was at the [police] barracks, and his mother asked for a lawyer.”
Benson denied this, and told Cuddy that Jones was told “time after time after time” that he would not be arrested.
Both attorneys plan to submit case law supporting their arguments to Cuddy by the weekend.