Detective's error prompts judge to toss out confession
A videotaped confession obtained from a double murder suspect has been tossed out by a judge, and an effort by Prince George's County prosecutors to have the state's highest court allow them to use the statement may delay the start of the trial.
The defendant, Terris T. Luckett, is charged with stabbing and fatally shooting his wife, Tunja Luckett, 36, on Aug. 2, 2007, in the couple's Ft. Washington home. Luckett, now 41, then drove to a barbershop in Clinton where John Scales III worked. Luckett believed Scales was having an affair with his wife, according to court records.
Luckett fatally shot Scales, then ran away, authorities say. Police investigators have said they believe Scales and Tunja Luckett were not romantically involved.
Two days after the shootings, Luckett called his mother from the platform of the Southern Avenue Metro station in Prince George's, saying he wanted to kill himself, according to a family member. He flung himself onto the tracks. A train ran over Luckett's legs, severing them, but he survived.
Luckett is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He has pleaded not guilty and is employing a "not criminally responsible" defense, commonly known as the insanity defense. His trial was scheduled to commence Dec. 4.
On Aug. 13, Prince George's homicide Detective Matthew Barba went to the hospital where Luckett was being treated and recorded a 17-minute videotaped interview in which Luckett describes the shootings and why he committed them. Defense attorneys moved to have the videotaped statement suppressed, and Circuit Court Judge Leo E. Green Jr. did just that, ruling that Barba's did not properly advise Luckett of his Miranda rights to ask for a lawyer and to remain silent.
The state appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, A three-judge panel affirmed Green's ruling. Retired Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr., who was specially assigned, did not mince words in describing the panel's decision: "How was the Miranda message compromised? Let us count the ways."
Then, Moylan did just that. Moylan quoted Barba providing this warning: "You have the right to talk to a lawyer before you are asked any questions, to have a lawyer present with you while you're being questioned, that's about this case specifically."
Luckett replied, "Okay."
Barba continued, "Like I said, if we want to talk about the Redskins, you don't need a lawyer for that because it does not concern -- okay."
Such a warning might be a good teaching example at an academic seminar for judges and lawyers of the "outer limits" of the Miranda-based right to counsel, Moylan wrote, but Luckett does not attend such events.
Barba also violated Miranda when he told Luckett he was there to "help" him, then suggested that if Luckett asked for a lawyer, he would be unable to investigate his side of the story, according to Moylan.
Prosecutors have asked the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, to consider an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals ruling affirming Green's decision to throw out the statement.
Prosecutors do not want the trial to go forward until the Court of Appeals has weighed in. Defense attorneys, arguing that Luckett's right to a speedy trial is being violated, want the trial to go forward. Today, Circuit Court Judge Michael Whalen heard arguments from both sides, then scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday to consider the matter.
Police obtained other incriminating statements from Luckett, according to court papers, which they can still use.
-- Ruben Castaneda
November 25, 2009; 4:01 PM ET
Categories: From the Courthouse , Pr. George's , Ruben Castaneda | Tags: Prince George's County police, Prince George's prosecutors
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