CARIBOU, Maine —The Maine Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of a Limestone man who entered a conditional guilty plea to manslaughter in the death of his 3-month-old daughter.
Nicklas Jones, 20, entered the plea in December 2011, retaining the right
to appeal motions denied during court proceedings by Aroostook County Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy.
Jones, who was represented by Matthew Hunter of Presque Isle, argued to the high court that the Superior Court erred in denying a motion to suppress because Jones was not given a Miranda warning, the court failed to consider his status as a juvenile as part of its custody analysis, and his statements were not voluntary.
Jones was 17 and living with the 18-year-old mother of their daughter, Joselyn Jones, in April 2009 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.
After Jones entered his conditional plea last year, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but six years suspended and four years of probation. He was allowed to be free on bail pending the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling on his appeals.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in October and released its decision on Nov. 8.
On April 23, 2009, Joselyn Jones arrived at a local hospital. State police Detective Dale Keegan, who has since retired, arrived at the facility as part of standard procedure implemented when a child under 5 years old is severely ill or injured.
According to court documents, Jones told Keegan that he had been holding the baby with one arm, preparing to put her in her crib, when she “jump[ed] backwards” and “she fell and she hit the crib and then she fell and hit the floor.”
The baby died from her injuries four days later.
Jones eventually confessed, according to police, which led to his conditional guilty plea.
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.
The Supreme Court concluded that a reasonable person in Jones’ position would have felt free to leave each of the three interrogations he had with police after his daughter’s death. The justices noted that all interrogations were nonconfrontational, and the detectives had told them he was free to leave anytime. They ruled that such interrogations were not subject to Miranda warnings, according to the majority opinion written by Justice Jon Levy.
In terms of his juvenile status, the court found Jones was almost 18 years old and was living an adult lifestyle on his own in an apartment with his girlfriend and daughter. He also did not want his mother in the room with him during his interrogations.
The justices also struck down the notion that Jones’ statements to police were not voluntary.
They found that during those interrogations, the detectives did not threaten Jones, promise him leniency, or deceive him. They also noted that Jones, in his final interrogation, took several breaks and always came back to talk to police.
Jones also contended that the Juvenile Court violated his constitutional right to due process of the law by relying on the testimony of a Mountain View Development Center employee to bind him over to the Superior Court. The center employee testified about reports he received from other staff members regarding Jones’ progress at the detention facility and his disciplinary record.
The court also found no basis for that argument.
Hunter could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.