PORTLAND, Maine — An attorney for a 20-year-old Limestone man tried to convince justices with the state’s highest court on Wednesday to disallow statements made to police concerning the death of his 3-month-old daughter three years ago.
Nicklas Jones has entered a conditional guilty plea to manslaughter in the April 2009 death of Joselyn Jones. Jones was 17 and living with the 18-year-old mother of the baby when he grew frustrated with the baby’s crying and threw her toward the crib, according to police. The baby missed the crib, hit her head and died four days later of blunt-force trauma to the head. Jones was arrested but has been free on bail since early 2010.
In December 2011, Jones entered a conditional guilty plea in Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou and was sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but six years suspended and four years of probation. As part of the sentencing, Jones retained his right to appeal motions denied by Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy last November.
He remains free pending the outcome of his appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard Wednesday in the Cumberland County Courthouse.
Attorney Matthew Hunter of Presque Isle appeared on Jones’ behalf to argue the motions that Cuddy rejected.
Hunter maintained that Jones’ statements to police should have been 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 said that Jones was in custody during all three of his police interviews, but, at the request of Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, the attorney focused on the third session on May 1, 2009, when his client’s mother also was present.
That third interview took place at the Maine State Police barracks in Houlton. State police Detective Dale Keegan, who has since retired, testified in court last year that mother and son agreed to stop at the barracks on their way to Bangor and that Keegan repeatedly reminded them they did not have to speak to police. During that interview, Jones and his mother, Jerene Rosenbrook, left the barracks several times and then returned to talk to police. Keegan said that he always made sure they understood that 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.
Hunter said Wednesday that during the third interview, his client was in custody because police told him that his explanation about how his daughter was injured didn’t make sense. The attorney also argued that detectives told Jones that only two people were in the apartment when the baby was injured, and this was the teen’s third interview. Hunter also said that Jones could not take himself away from the scene, as his mother was driving the car.
Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber argued that Jones was invited to stop at the barracks, and police let him know that he was not forced to stop. Keegan testified that Jones was told multiple times that he would not be arrested that day, and he got breaks during the entire questioning period. Macomber pointed out that Jones took several breaks to smoke and to talk to his mother.
Keegan testified last year that Rosenbrook agreed with him during the May 1 interview that her son was not telling the truth and acknowledged that he asked her to talk to her son outside of the barracks “as a parent.”
Rosenbrook then took her son outside and she returned and told detectives what her son had told her.
Hunter argued that Rosenbrook was acting as an agent of the police when Keegan asked her to talk to her son outside the barracks.
Attorneys have never revealed what Rosenbrook said, but court documents indicated Jones had admitted to Rosenbrook that he had caused Joselyn’s death unintentionally.
There is no timetable under which the justices must issue a decision.
If Jones were to win his appeal, the case would be sent back to Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou.