CARIBOU, Maine — A Limestone teenager accused of manslaughter in the 2009 death of his 3-month-old daughter was sentenced to six years in prison for the crime but he remains free on bail pending a decision on whether to appeal court rulings made before his sentencing.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson said Friday that Nicklas Jones, 19, entered a conditional guilty plea on Dec. 8 in Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou. Judge Ronald Daigle sentenced Jones to 15 years in prison with all but six years suspended and four years of probation. Daigle was sitting in for a Superior Court justice.
As part of the sentencing, according to Benson, Jones retained his right to appeal Daigle’s decision last year that Jones should be tried as an adult for allegedly causing the death of his daughter Joselyn Jones. Nicklas Jones also has the right to appeal Justice Kevin Cuddy’s decision last month denying a motion to throw out statements Jones made to police about the case.
Because of the conditional plea, Jones remains free on bail pending his decision about an appeal. A decision had not been made as of Friday. If he decides to proceed and the appeal fails, Jones will begin serving his sentence.
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 initially pleaded not guilty and asked for a trial.
Jones was interviewed by police about the case three separate times before being charged. Jones’ attorney Matthew Hunter of Presque Isle wanted Jones’ statements to police 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. Hunter also argued that detectives failed to honor a request by his client’s mother, Jerene Rosenbrook, for an attorney for her son during the third interview.
Prosecutors countered that Maine State Police detectives followed proper protocol. Under questioning by 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 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 mother and son agreed to stop in at the state police barracks on their way to Bangor and that the detective 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.
Keegan 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.
Cuddy also 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.