BELFAST, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday voided the conviction of a former Searsport music teacher who was found guilty by a Waldo County jury two years ago of multiple counts of unlawful sexual contact against a child.
William Wiley, 43, now will wait to see if the Waldo County district attorney’s office will decide to try his case again — this time without a controversial police interview during which he confessed to the crimes.
A majority of judges on Maine’s highest court found that a Waldo County Sheriff’s Office detective had persuaded Wiley in the interview that by confessing, he would receive a more favorable sentence for the crime — and that this kind of persuasion rendered his statements involuntary.
Both Wiley’s defense attorney and the Waldo County deputy district attorney said that it was very rare for the law court to reverse a decision such as this one, and even more unusual for them to do it with a 4-3 split among the justices.
“Because we conclude that Wiley’s statements were not voluntary, we vacate the judgment of conviction,” Justice Jon Levy wrote in the majority opinion. “Confession is not voluntary where an interrogating officer … leads a suspect to believe that a confession will secure a favorable, concrete sentence, and that belief motivates the suspect to confess.”
A minority report by the three dissenting justices said that the original decision to allow the statements made to police was fair.
“Although there were suggestions, even promises, of leniency if Wiley cooperated, those suggestions did not go beyond the bounds established by precedent for investigatory questioning and, accordingly, were not improper conduct or techniques,” Justice Donald Alexander wrote in the opinion.
He also wrote that the majority justices wrongly reached a conclusion as if the court had been the “fact-finder in the first instance,” and that they focused more on the detective’s statements than on Wiley’s state of mind at the time of the interview.
During that interview, Wiley, who was distraught and extremely emotional, at times sobbed and writhed on the floor of the interview room at the sheriff’s office while he confessed to the sexual abuse.
A jury unanimously found Wiley guilty in 2011 after a three-day-long criminal trial of 10 counts of unlawful sexual contact with a 12-year-old girl. The girl, who was not a student of the former Searsport Elementary School music teacher, testified that the abuse occurred frequently over a period of roughly six months in 2004. She said she didn’t tell anyone for years, until she shared her story with a boyfriend and then others in 2009.
The jurors did not find Wiley guilty of the most serious charge of gross sexual assault.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but three years suspended and was to spend six years on probation upon his release.
Right now, Wiley stands convicted of nothing, but is still charged with the 10 counts. He remains free on bail pending a decision by the district attorney’s office on whether to retry the case. If he is not retried, Wiley will be let go.
Steven Peterson, his defense attorney, said Thursday afternoon that the supreme court’s decision did not surprise him.
“We’ve contended all along that the statements he gave to the officer were involuntary. He’s always denied the allegations,” the attorney said. “Over the course of the interview, he caved and said he’d agree with whatever [the girl] said. The interview was over 2½ hours long. He denied consistently through the first two hours that anything had happened.”
According to Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s decision will create some hard decisions for his office. Justice Jeffrey Hjelm initially had denied Wiley’s motion to suppress the statements he made to Detective Jason Bosco of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s obviously very disappointing and very frustrating,” Walker said. “Being able to convince a judge like Justice Hjelm, who is very meticulous in his rulings and his analysis of cases [to deny that motion] — obviously, he felt the state had met its burden on this.”
Walker said that he will speak with the victim and her family, explaining the court’s new ruling, and make a determination of what to do next. If the case is retried, the state can’t use Wiley’s police interview and confession.
“It was a big part of the case, obviously,” the deputy district attorney said.
To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.