WOODLAND — One by one, the Yolo Superior Court judge addressed the arguments for keeping a Davis murder suspect’s alleged confession out of court, from the ruse that got the teen to the police station to his mental-health history to the tactics used by officers during the five-hour interview.
But none of it rendered the confession involuntary in the opinion of Judge David Reed, who after privately watching videos of the June 17, 2013, interview determined that 16-year-old Daniel William Marsh demonstrated “significant sophistication” and intelligence, “perhaps beyond his years.”
“The court concludes that the defendant did not invoke his right to remain silent,” Reed said, noting that Marsh continued to talk with officers even after being placed under arrest. “His waiver of rights appears to have been knowingly, intelligently and understandingly made.”
“Under the totality of the circumstances, the defendant’s statements were voluntary and uncoerced,” Reed added before denying a defense motion to exclude the alleged confession.
The ruling clears the way for Yolo County prosecutors to introduce Marsh’s recorded statements at his upcoming trial for the violent stabbing murders of local attorney Oliver “Chip” Northup, 87, and his wife Claudia Maupin, 76.
Also on Friday, Reed granted a defense motion to postpone the trial, which is now scheduled to begin April 14 — the one-year anniversary of the slayings. Marsh, who has pleaded not guilty, is being tried as an adult.
But his youth was a key theme in the defense’s bid to suppress the alleged confession, arguing that Marsh’s age, combined with his history of severe depression and anxiety disorder, made him ill-equipped to withstand the tactics of the Davis police detective and FBI agent who questioned him about the double homicide.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, described Marsh as an atypically mature teen who not only kept up with the interview but even challenged the two officers throughout the questioning.
During an hourlong evidentiary hearing Friday morning, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral called four witnesses who testified about Marsh’s past experiences with the Davis Police Department, as well as his interactions with officers on the day of his arrest.
Marsh’s exposure to law enforcement dates back to 2010, when as a 13-year-old he participated in the Davis Police Department’s youth academy and, based on his performance there, was invited to join the agency’s cadet program.
“He really shined,” said Michele Sharitz, the police services specialist who oversees the two programs. “Daniel stood out in a positive way — he was one that stood out the most.”
Sharitz said Marsh would have received instruction in defensive tactics, hostage negotiations, crime-scene investigations and other topics during the academy, though she acknowledged under cross-examination that police interrogations and Miranda rights were not part of the course.
It was through the youth academy that Marsh first met Officer Eddie Ellsworth, who as the agency’s school resource officer later encountered the teen on multiple occasions on the Davis High School campus. One of those meetings occurred in December 2012, when Ellsworth responded to the school to transport Marsh to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Even then, Marsh appeared coherent and understood the questions that were asked of him, Ellsworth said.
On June 17, Ellsworth arrived at work to learn that Marsh had been identified as a suspect in the Northup-Marsh murders, the officer testified. He was dispatched to a home on East Eighth Street, where Marsh was staying at the time, to bring the teen to the Police Department.
Told he needed to make arrangements for a youth diversion program related to his arrest in May for having a knife on the Davis High campus, Marsh willingly accompanied Ellsworth to the station even after being told he didn’t have to, Ellsworth testified. The officer said he read Marsh his Miranda rights but did not immediately arrest or restrain him.
During the interview, conducted by Davis police Detective Ariel Pineda and FBI Special Agent Chris Campion, Marsh was questioned about his family and other personal history before being confronted about the murders.
“He was tracking extremely well. He was going with the flow of the conversation,” even jumping ahead of the officers at certain points, Campion said on the witness stand. “His mental acumen, his vocabulary, the way he presented himself … I would characterize him as a very intelligent young man.”
In their motion to suppress Marsh’s confession, public defenders Ron Johnson and Andrea Pelochino took issue with Campion’s interview tactics, in which he described himself as a “healer” and, according to the lawyers, suggested that a confession could lead to more lenient juvenile-court prosecution or psychiatric hospitalization.
“Law enforcement capitalized on Mr. Marsh’s vulnerabilities … ultimately rendering the statements involuntary,” Pelochino said in court Friday. She also noted that Marsh made multiple requests to go home during the interview and at one point said, “I need help,” describing both as invocations of his right to remain silent.
Cabral disagreed, saying Marsh clearly understood his rights and showed no signs of impairment during the interview — even attempting to negotiate his release after being placed under arrest.
” ‘Well, since it’s only based on rumors, why don’t you let me go home first?’ ” Marsh told the officers, according to Cabral. “This is not an individual who felt he had to comply with what the police said.”
In his ruling, Reed concurred that “invocations cannot be equivocal or ambiguous,” and that law-enforcement officers under the Miranda laws are not required to ask clarifying questions or cease questioning in such instances. The judge also concluded that references to juvenile court or psychiatric help were isolated and “did not amount to a promise of leniency.”
None of Friday’s testimony addressed the specifics of the alleged confession, in which Marsh reportedly admitted to harboring the urge to kill since age 10 and choosing his victims after discovering an open window at their Cowell Boulevard condominium, two doors away from his father’s residence at the time.
Marsh’s attorneys declined to comment about Reed’s ruling as they left the courtroom Friday. The case is due back in court March 21 for a status conference, with a trial-readiness conference set for April 4.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene