Judge refuses to allow statements in attempted murder trial
Last updated: August 29th, 2012 10:52 PM (PDT)
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant intends to ask the state Court of Appeals to review a judge's decision to suppress statements by a former Pasco man accused of attempted murder.
Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell ruled last week that Todd David Stuart asked for an attorney at the start of his interview with Pasco police detectives and all statements made after that request cannot be presented at trial.
Sant filed a motion asking Mitchell to reconsider his decision and argued his points Wednesday.
Stuart, 48, is accused of conspiring with his estranged wife to kill his mother-in-law, Judy Hebert, about two weeks before Hebert was fatally shot. Todd Stuart allegedly got Hebert to stand in a certain spot in the garage while Tashia Stuart was in the rafters and pushed an 18-gallon bin of books on Herbert's head, documents said.
Tashia Stuart, 38, has claimed self-defense in the March 2011 shooting at her mother's Salmon Drive home in West Pasco. She reportedly has said she shot Hebert after Hebert came at her with an ax.
Todd Stuart was arrested in January in Oakland, Calif., and interviewed by detectives at the Oakland police station. After being read his rights, Stuart said "I think I should probably have a lawyer," but detectives testified that they didn't think he was making a request for an attorney, simply thinking about whether he should have an attorney present before he talked to them.
Sant said that Stuart clearly knew his rights and because he continued to talk and interact with the detectives, it showed he had not yet asked for an attorney. Detective Sgt. Jeff Harpster and Detective Brad Gregory said that later in the interview when Stuart made a clear statement that he wanted an attorney, they stopped the interview at that time.
Last week, Mitchell said that it was clear Stuart understood his rights, but he also said Stuart's initial statement was clear that he wanted an attorney.
On Wednesday, Sant argued that because Stuart continued to talk to detectives after clearly understanding his right to have an attorney present shows that he was willing to talk to them without a lawyer.
"To allow a defendant to understand his rights and engage in conversation with detectives and then only later say I didn't understand my rights, that would be unjust," Sant said.
In his written motion, Sant provided case law examples to the judge that he said supported his arguments that Stuart's statements should be admissible. He said detectives made multiple references that it was up to Stuart if he wanted to continue talking to them or if he wanted an attorney and "Stuart waived presence of an attorney and provided a statement," he wrote.
Defense attorney Jeffery Robinson of Seattle countered that Mitchell's ruling last week was accurate and there was no legal basis to change the decision.
He said Stuart was clear, and the detectives' statements afterward that Stuart would need to change his mind if he wanted to talk to them showed that they also believed he had asked for an attorney.
Robinson said Stuart's words, his tone of voice and the fact that he signed the Miranda rights form but refused to check the box indicating he agreed to waive his rights all show that Stuart did not waive his right to an attorney.
Judge Mitchell agreed with the defense for a second time on the issue. He said Stuart's statement was a clear request for an attorney and the interview should have been concluded at that time.
Sant then asked for the Sept. 10 trial date to be continued to give him time to seek an appellate court review of the issue.
"It's an important issue. Under our position, that the statements should be admissible at trial, this does considerable change the direction and nature of the state's proceedings at trial," he said.
Robinson objected to the delay, saying that since he first took the case in May, he made it clear that he wanted to go to trial as quickly as possible.
"The prejudice is this man has been sitting in jail for now going on nine months in a case where we are ready to go to trial," he said. "There is nothing about this ruling that is remotely controversial."
Mitchell denied the request to postpone the trial and said it is going to start Sept. 10 "unless and until there is an order staying the proceedings by the Court of Appeals."
Robinson also informed the court that he now plans to file a motion to dismiss the first-degree attempted murder charge against his client and possibly the conspiracy to commit murder charge Sant has said will be filed against Stuart if the case goes to trial.
Arguments on that motion are expected to be heard Sept. 6.
Tashia Stuart's trial is set for Oct. 24. She is charged with first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances.
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; email@example.com
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