A Yolo Superior Court judge is slated to rule this week whether a Davis teen’s alleged confession to the brutal murders of an elderly couple should be a part of the defendant’s upcoming trial proceedings.
Yolo County prosecutors say a bid by Daniel Marsh’s defense attorneys to toss out the alleged admission should be denied, arguing that law-enforcement officers used neither coercion nor false promises of leniency to elicit details about the April 14, 2013, slayings of Oliver “Chip” Northup and Claudia Maupin, as Marsh’s lawyers contend.
Instead, Marsh confessed after officers said they would compare Marsh’s DNA to evidence collected from the crime scene, and would analyze his cell phone to determine his whereabouts at the time of the murders, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral says in an opposition motion filed late last week.
“(T)he defendant decided to confess because he believed it was pointless to resist in light of all the evidence against him, not because of any promises of leniency,” Cabral wrote. “Just before the defendant started making incriminating statements about having wanted to kill people since he was 10 years old, (he) said, ‘I’m f—– either way, aren’t I?’ ”
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday in Judge David Reed’s courtroom. Marsh’s trial is set to begin the week of March 10.
Police have said the 16-year-old admitted to repeatedly stabbing Northup, 87, and Maupin, 76, after sneaking into their Cowell Boulevard condominium through an open window. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, along with the special-circumstance allegations of multiple murders, torture and lying in wait, for which he is being tried as an adult.
He was arrested on June 17, two days after being identified as a suspect in the homicide case.
In a motion to suppress the alleged confession filed Feb. 6, deputy public defenders Ron Johnson and Andrea Pelochino say their client was taken to the Davis police station under the false pretense of filling out paperwork for a youth diversion program, then delivered a Miranda warning that was “excessively casual” before being questioned for several hours about the murders by Davis Police Detective Ariel Pineda and FBI Agent Chris Campion.
The defense also claimed that Marsh was promised leniency in the form of juvenile-court prosecution or psychiatric hospitalization, but only in exchange for a confession, rendering his statements involuntary and thus inadmissible in court.
But according to Cabral, authorities were up-front about Marsh’s rights from the beginning, starting with Davis Police Officer Eddie Ellsworth’s statement that “you know you don’t have to come with me, right?” as he gave the teen a ride from a friend’s house to the police station.
At the station, Ellsworth read Marsh his rights not casually but “in a loud, clear and firm tone of voice,” asking several times whether the teen understood the Miranda warning, the prosecutor noted, adding that Marsh “expressly waived his right to remain silent” by agreeing to speak to Pineda.
Marsh was not under arrest during the interview, which Cabral described as “friendly in nature and continued with the defendant’s willing cooperation.”
“The interviewers checked on multiple occasions to see that the defendant was comfortable by offering food and drink, asking if he needed bathroom breaks, and even giving him an opportunity to make a phone call,” Cabral wrote. “Given the circumstances, even a much younger defendant would not have believed he was in custody.”
As for the assertion that Marsh was taken to the police station under false pretenses, Cabral said the teen “did in fact have an unresolved case concerning a knife found in his possession at school.” But higher courts also have ruled that the use of deception doesn’t necessarily render a confession invalid.
“(P)olice can flat-out lie to the defendant as long as the deception is not of a type reasonably likely to produce an untrue statement,” Cabral wrote. Talk of juvenile-court prosecution and hospitalization were not promises of leniency, but rather observations of “the benefits flowing naturally from a truthful statement.”
Cabral also disputes the defense’s claim that Marsh’s youth made him naive to police interview strategies, noting that the teen had been questioned by an officer regarding the knife incident the month before. But his knowledge of the subject also went back several years to 2010, when Marsh spent five months in the Davis Police Department’s cadet service program and underwent extensive training in various law-enforcement tactics.
“The defendant’s understanding of police procedures was exemplified by his questioning of the officers in detail about whether he was under arrest and whether he could go home pending further investigation,” Cabral wrote.
Marsh has pleaded not guilty to the allegations against him. He remains in Yolo County Juvenile Hall custody while his case is pending.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene