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People v. Clark

Court of Appeals of Michigan

November 19, 2019

JAY SCOTT CLARK, Defendant-Appellant.

          Hillsdale Circuit Court LC No. 17-414055-FC

          Before: Swartzle, P.J., and Gleicher and M. J. Kelly, JJ.

          Swartzle, P.J.

         Police take a person into custody for questioning related to a murder. Police explain to the person his rights under Miranda v Arizona. The person exercises his right to remain silent, but while being escorted to a cell, he reinitiates a discussion, and police immediately return him to the interview room. He is reminded that his Miranda rights had been read to him earlier, and he agrees to talk. Under this fact pattern, must the person's incriminating statements made during the reinitiated interview be suppressed?

         Defendant asks us to hold so, but he does so without support. Instead, we hold that there is no bright-line rule that, in the absence of rereading the person his Miranda rights a second time when discussions are reinitiated, the person's subsequent statements must be suppressed. Rather, the test is whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the person voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his right to counsel and to remain silent. Under the circumstances here, there is no basis to suppress defendant's incriminating statements made to police. Further concluding that there is no other ground for reversal, we affirm defendant's convictions for first-degree murder and felony-firearm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. THE BODY

         On April 2, 2017, the victim's body was found in a wooded area in Hillsdale County. The medical examiner determined that the victim died because he was shot five times; four bullets entered his left side and one bullet entered his right side. The medical examiner opined that the shots had been fired contemporaneously and that the single gunshot wound to the victim's right side appeared to be from a smaller bullet. Police recovered two .45 caliber bullets from the victim's jacket and sweatshirt, and concluded that both of those bullets had been fired from the same weapon. In addition, the medical examiner recovered a .45 caliber bullet from the victim's body during the autopsy.


         Police officers interviewed Ashley Hoath, [1] a woman who dated the victim at various times. Ashley ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree murder arising from the victim's death, and the trial court sentenced her to serve 25 to 40 years in prison. This Court denied her delayed application for leave to appeal, People v Hoath, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered June 29, 2018 (Docket No. 343918), and our Supreme Court also denied her application for leave to appeal, People v Hoath, 503 Mich. 889 (2018). Based on information that Ashley provided, police arrested defendant in connection with the victim's death. Police did not immediately interview defendant at the time of his arrest because he was intoxicated.

         Deputy Wesley Ludeker and Sergeant Kevin Bradley of the Hillsdale County Sheriff's Department interviewed defendant on the morning after his arrest. Defendant subsequently moved to suppress the statements he gave to police that day.

         Sergeant Bradley testified at the pretrial hearing on defendant's motion to suppress that when they questioned him, defendant was cogent, alert, and communicating well. Police recorded defendant's first interview, and during this interview, Deputy Ludeker read defendant his Miranda rights from a prepared card. Defendant asked, "So I can stop answering questions any time I want?" According to Sergeant Bradley, Deputy Ludeker agreed that defendant could do so, and defendant said "Okay, then." Deputy Ludeker told defendant that he had spoken with Ashley and she was "selling him down the river" because she blamed him entirely and denied any involvement in the victim's death. At that point, defendant asserted his right to counsel and police ceased the interrogation. The recording of this first interview indicates that it lasted only four minutes.

         Deputy Jeffrey Miller testified that he retrieved defendant from the interview room and began escorting him to the jail. Deputy Miller did not recall saying anything to defendant as he escorted defendant back to his cell. When they were just a few feet away from the interview room, defendant said, "Hey, could you tell those guys however Ashley said it happened, I'm willing to sign whatever." Deputy Miller agreed to convey that message, and he secured defendant in his jail cell. Deputy Miller then told Deputy Ludeker what defendant said, and another police officer escorted defendant back to the interview room. Importantly, only a few minutes passed between the initial reading of defendant's Miranda rights, his invocation of his right to counsel, and his subsequent decision to submit a signed statement.

         Sergeant Bradley testified that, after defendant's first interview, he went to the undersheriff's office. Deputy Ludeker then informed the sergeant that defendant reinitiated a discussion, and the two police officers returned to the interview room. Although they did not restart the recording device, they instructed another police officer to do so. Sergeant Bradley admitted that neither he nor Deputy Ludeker reread defendant his Miranda rights verbatim from the prepared card after defendant reinitiated the discussion with them.

         According to Sergeant Bradley, Deputy Ludeker reminded defendant that he had invoked his right to counsel and asked him if he had changed his mind and wanted to talk to them. Defendant told them that he had changed his mind, he wanted to speak with them, and he immediately informed the officers, "Whatever Ashley said happened, is what happened." Sergeant Bradley testified that, after they had been speaking with defendant for some time, an officer knocked on the door of the interview room and asked him to step outside. Sergeant Bradley learned that the recording of this second discussion had missed the initial 30 to 45 seconds. Sergeant Bradley then reentered the interview room and told defendant that he respected him for speaking with police about the victim's death, waiving his rights, and telling police what happened. Sergeant Bradley said defendant responded "Yeah" and "Thanks."

         Deputy Ludeker testified that defendant left the interview room after his first interview, but then asked to return and agreed to waive his rights to counsel and to remain silent. According to Deputy Ludeker, he reminded defendant that he had been read his Miranda warnings, then asked defendant if he understood his rights, and defendant said, "Yes." Defendant then explained that he remembered being read his rights, understood them, waived them, and was prepared to give a statement. Deputy Ludeker testified that defendant's first statement after waiving his rights was, "Whatever Ashley said happened is how it happened."

         Defendant also testified during the hearing on his pretrial motion to suppress. He acknowledged that Deputy Ludeker read him his Miranda rights during the first interview. Although he asserted that he had just been on a nine-day alcohol and drug binge, defendant nevertheless admitted that he understood his rights when they were first read to him. Defendant also admitted that he was brought back to the interview room after stating that he wanted to speak with the two investigating officers. The police officers did not threaten him and treated him "great."

         Although defendant conceded that he initiated the second interview with police and that he voluntarily spoke with the police officers during the second interview, he stated that he was "spurred" to do so by Deputy Miller, who said something to get his mind going about Ashley, and he feared that Ashley might be in jail. Yet, defendant did not elaborate on what specifically "spurred" him, and there is nothing in the record to suggest that Deputy Miller badgered defendant to reinitiate discussions. Defendant testified that the police officers did not reread his Miranda rights to him before the second interview, but he admitted that Deputy Ludeker reminded him that he had invoked his right to counsel and asked if he wanted to speak to police again.

         After the close of proofs at the suppression hearing, defense counsel argued that it was not enough that defendant voluntarily spoke to the officers during the second interview. Instead, defense counsel argued that there was a bright-line rule that the officers had to reread defendant's Miranda rights to him verbatim before they could speak to him again. The trial court disagreed with defense counsel that this was the law. The trial court then found that defendant understood his rights and waived them, and concluded that defendant's statements made during the second interview were admissible:

         It would appear clearly to this Court based on the facts that I have before me that the five minute hiatus, Mr. Clark waived his rights. He invoked them. He knew them. He understood them. He initiated conduct [sic]. He was reminded of the fact that those rights were read to him. He [was] asked if essentially he understood them. And that he wished to talk. He admitted yes in all that regard.

         I do not believe that the case law that had been cited referring to Michigan and federal cases require a specific second reading verbatim of Miranda rights. And that's what I base my ruling on. If I am mistaken, obviously the rights weren't read and if that's what the appellate courts are standing on the proposition they must be read verbatim, obviously it did not take place here.

         But I don't believe that's what the case law interprets. I don't think that's what the case law requires. So, I deny the motion to suppress. Statements are admissible.

         C. THE TRIAL

         Defendant's Second Interview. Defendant's second interview was played at trial for the jury. It lasted approximately 30 minutes, including several breaks. As noted earlier, the recording does not capture the beginning of the interview. Instead, the recording begins abruptly with defendant and a police officer already speaking. On the recording, the officers told defendant that they could not simply take Ashley's word for what transpired and that they needed to hear defendant's version of events. The officers also told defendant that they wanted the truth and that they did not want someone to confess if that person was not responsible for the shooting.

         During the second interview, defendant told police that he shot the victim with a .45 caliber revolver, that the victim was dead, and that he definitely "pulled the trigger." Defendant admitted that he shot the victim several times, estimating that he had fired "three or four" shots while the victim was seated in defendant's Chevrolet Tahoe. Although defendant stated that he drove 20 to 30 minutes outside of town before he shot the victim, he explained that he could not remember exactly where the shooting occurred because he was intoxicated from the consumption of alcohol and methamphetamine.

         Defendant first insisted that Ashley was not with him when he shot the victim. When police told him that Ashley had admitted being there, defendant responded that Ashley did not lie, and if she said that she was there, then she was there. Although defendant never stated to police that he planned to kill the victim, he nevertheless complained that no one was helping Ashley, and stated that her father could not "do it." He also told the officers that he had never met the victim prior to the shooting and that he needed Ashley to identify the victim for him.

         Police asked defendant about the firearm used to shoot the victim. Defendant stated that the officers would never find the firearm because he had melted it down at his stepfather's house. Police also asked defendant about his Chevrolet Tahoe, and defendant explained that he cleaned the vehicle with a mix of chlorine and peroxide and traded it for the Ford Mustang that he was driving on the day of his arrest. When police asked why the Tahoe's back seat had been burned, defendant asked, "How did you know that I burned the seat?" Defendant then stated that after he burned the back seat, he disposed of it and some bicycles in a scrap yard.

         During the second interview, a police officer also told defendant that he had heard-and not just from Ashley-that defendant might have done something like this before. Defendant explained that he told Ashley all kinds of "stuff" to make her feel that he was okay with the victim's death. The police officer responded that Ashley made it sound like defendant used to do "this for a living," implying that defendant was a killer-for-hire. Defendant responded that the victim was the only person he had ever killed.

         Investigation of Vehicle and Ohio Property. When police arrested him, defendant was driving a Ford Mustang with an Ohio license plate. Jason Eisenmann, who lived in Ohio, testified that he advertised a Ford Mustang for sale online, that defendant offered to trade the Tahoe for the Mustang, and that he accepted the offer. When defendant delivered the Tahoe, Eisenmann saw that it did not have a back seat, but it appeared to be otherwise clean. Eisenmann did not clean the Tahoe; he only drove it for about a week before the fuel pump failed, and police seized the vehicle about two weeks later.

         Detective-Lieutenant Lance Benzing testified that he seized the Tahoe from Eisenmann's property. He stated that the Tahoe was missing a back seat and a large section of carpet. Based on information from an informant, Detective-Lieutenant Benzing also searched a property in Ohio owned by members of defendant's family. The property included a "garage-type barn" with a camper. The garage had vehicles, mechanic's tools, welding equipment, and motorcycles; it appeared to be used for both storage and as a place to work on vehicles. The detective saw a burn spot behind the barn and found items within the burn spot-metal bracketing, a piece of vinyl, and a seatbelt buckle-that were consistent with the interior of a Tahoe. He seized a burned vehicle seat on which bicycles had been piled. He transported the vehicle seat back to Michigan, and it fit into the Tahoe. The detective also searched the Ohio home of defendant's brother. He seized a .22 caliber handgun from the brother's residence and found property that belonged to defendant there.

         Several forensic scientists employed by the Michigan State Police testified that they were unable to recover evidence from the Tahoe. One stated that she tested the Tahoe and did not find any indication of blood around the area where the back seat would have been. She did recover some blood drops, but they did not match the victim. She stated that, although the chemical used for testing is very sensitive, bleach and other detergents will degrade samples. Another forensic scientist testified that he tested the Tahoe for fingerprints and did not find any that matched the victim, defendant, or Ashley. Finally, a third forensic scientist testified that he was unable to identify any fibers from the Tahoe on the victim's clothing and did not find any fibers from the victim's clothing in the Tahoe.

         Testimony of Temples and Jolene. Michael Temples testified that he was a resident of the county jail. For several days, he shared a cell with defendant. Temples testified that defendant was often upset, crying, and distraught. According to Temples, defendant told him that he had already talked to police and that he was in jail because he shot and killed the victim. Defendant told Temples that he turned around in his Tahoe and shot the victim because the victim had called Ashley an unflattering name. Defendant also claimed that the victim was abusing Ashley. Defendant explained that he told the police officers that he cut up the gun he used, but in reality, he put the gun in the sewage tank of a camper. Defendant also told Temples that he washed the Tahoe with bleach and peroxide, removed the Tahoe's back seat, and burned it near the camper. Temples testified that he related defendant's statements to police because "it was the right thing to do."

         Defense counsel called Jolene Hoath, Ashley's sister, to testify on defendant's behalf. Counsel asked whether Ashley spoke to her about the victim's death, and Jolene answered that she had. Jolene testified that Ashley stated that she knew that the body that was recently found was the victim's body; Jolene asked Ashley how she knew that the body was the victim's, and Ashley told her that she "did it."

         Defense counsel then asked Jolene whether they had other conversations about the victim's death, and Jolene said that they spoke about the matter again the next day. She related that Ashley was distraught, and Ashley stated that she was scared of "the guy" and that the "guy did it." Jolene further testified that Ashley "never said a name." Defense counsel asked Jolene whether Ashley was a habitual liar, but the prosecutor objected and the trial court sustained the objection. Defense counsel then elicited testimony from Jolene that Ashley did not have a reputation for telling the truth.

         On cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Jolene about the day when Ashley was crying. The prosecutor asked her if Ashley ever told her the name of the man of whom she was afraid. Jolene stated that Ashley said that she was afraid of defendant. Jolene indicated that Ashley did not say why, just that she was afraid defendant would hurt her. The prosecutor then asked whether Ashley told her that defendant was the person who shot the victim. Defense counsel objected and the trial court overruled the objection. The prosecutor asked the question in a different way: "She told you that this other guy was the one who shot" the victim. Jolene stated, "Yes, she did." On redirect, Jolene explained that Ashley finally told her that defendant was the one who shot the victim after information regarding the victim's death came out in the news.

         Ashley Refused to Testify. The prosecutor also called Ashley as a witness at defendant's trial, but she refused to testify. Although both parties appear to have believed that Ashley would testify, she refused to do so after she was called to the witness stand. Ashley agreed to testify against defendant as part of a plea deal that allowed her to plead guilty to second-degree murder, and police made defendant aware of the substance of her statements implicating him in the shooting. The prosecutor gave defendant notice that he intended to call Ashley as a witness at his trial, and provided defense counsel with a summary of her criminal convictions, which suggests that the prosecutor expected that Ashley would testify and be subject to cross-examination.

         In the prosecutor's opening statement, he stated that Ashley would be testifying. He informed the jury that she had initially denied any role in the shooting, but that she subsequently admitted participating in the shooting and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He stated that Ashley told police that defendant shot the victim, but did not otherwise elaborate about her proposed testimony. Similarly, in her opening statement, defense counsel informed the jury that Ashley would testify. She predicted that when Ashley did so, the jury would see that her statements blaming defendant were not credible, that she was not an innocent victim, and that she was a liar. Defense counsel told the jury that she would also be asking Ashley about an incident during which she beat her sister into unconsciousness, and stated that there would be evidence that Ashley once paid the victim's bond to get him out of jail. Finally, defense counsel argued that the police officers did not conduct a thorough investigation regarding the victim's death, but only chose to investigate those details that fit Ashley's version of events.

         On the afternoon of the first day of trial, the prosecutor informed the trial court that his next witness was Ashley, but that she had not yet arrived. The trial court ordered a brief recess. After the trial court resumed proceedings and the jury was seated in the courtroom, the prosecutor called Ashley to the witness stand. The trial court then placed her under oath and asked her to spell her name, which she did. After the trial court told the prosecutor that he could begin his examination, the following exchange occurred in the presence of the jury:

The Witness: Your Honor, I want to file a verbal motion to withdraw my plea.
The Court: Ma'am-ma'am-ma'am.
The Witness: It was not willful-
The Court: Ma'am, you're out of order. This is not the place nor the-the time for that ...

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