CARIBOU, Maine — A Superior Court justice has rejected a request by a Limestone teenager accused of manslaughter in the 2009 death of his 3-month-old daughter to have statements he made to police about the case thrown out.
The ruling from Justice Kevin Cuddy in the case against Nicklas Jones, 19, was issued in mid-September but not registered in court until late last month. The suppression hearing was held in August.
Jones is accused of manslaughter in connection with the death of his baby daughter Joselyn Jones.
Jones was 17 and living with the 18-year-old mother of the baby when he allegedly grew frustrated with the baby’s crying and threw her toward the crib. The baby missed the crib, hit her head and died four days later of blunt force trauma to the head, according to police. Jones was arrested but has been free on bail since early 2010. He is being tried as an adult and has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge. No trial date has been set.
Jones was interviewed by police about the case three separate times before being charged. Jones’ attorney Matthew Hunter of Presque Isle told Cuddy in August that Jones’ statements to police should be suppressed on the grounds that each of the 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.
Prosecutors countered that Maine State Police detectives followed proper protocol. 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.
In his ruling, Cuddy essentially upheld every argument made by Benson. He noted that the defendant voluntarily took part in all interviews, as did Jones’ mother. He said that detectives did not have “reasonable grounds to believe this defendant was guilty of a crime from the totality of the information available to them” during the interviews on April 23 and 24, 2009. He noted that while police made it clear at certain times that they believed Jones was holding back information, they still reminded the teenager that he was not under arrest and could stop the questioning at any time.
The decision was counter to the argument made by Hunter in August, who said that an emotional, overwhelmed Jones felt that he was in custody during the April 23 interview because one of the doors to the room at the hospital was locked. Hunter said Jones felt the same way during the April 24 interview, because police told him they had found marijuana plants and partially burned marijuana cigarettes in his apartment. He argued that Jones was in custody during the May 1 interview because he was the sole focus of the investigation during questioning at the police barracks and his mother asked for a lawyer.
Cuddy ruled that Jones was questioned by police in neutral or familiar surroundings, that he never was restrained, there were never more than two detectives present during the questioning, and during the May 1 interview, the “defendant and his mother were advised that there were no charges pending, that they did not have to talk to the police and that they could leave at any time.”
The justice further ruled that “a reasonable person in defendant’s position would not have believed he was in police custody and constrained to a degree associated with formal arrest at the time of any of these three interviews.” He noted that police stopped asking investigative questions after Jones’ mother requested a lawyer.
Court records indicate that it was Jones’ mother who told police during the May 1 interview that her son had told her during a break outside of the barracks that he had caused the baby’s death accidentally.