14 year old can be questioned without a parent in a murder case


In 1996, the bodies of Cecil Amos, Frankie Amos, and Shirley Ann Davis, were found in Cecil Amos’ car, which was parked at the Nanihwaiya Caves in Neshoba County. The three members of the Choctaw tribe had been shot to death. Three days later, the police arrested Timothy Sudberry, and brothers Kenneth Clemons and Bobby Clemons. Sudberry led the authorities to two guns, which matched the ballistic evidence from the crime scene.

At the time of his arrest, 14 year-old Kenneth Clemons was advised of his rights and asked several times whether he understood them. He acknowledged that he did, and signed the waiver of rights form. Clemons then stated that he and his brother (Bobby) remained in a separate vehicle, while Sudberry murdered the people in Amos’ car.

When confronted with the fact that this statement did not conform with the physical evidence, however, Clemons changed his statement. Clemons told the police that Cecil Amos owed him ten dollars, and, at Amos’ suggestion, Clemons agreed to meet Amos at “the caves” for a beer. Clemons described his role in the killings:

I asked Cecil if he had my money. When Cecil told me he didn’t have my money, I came out with a twenty-five automatic pistol in my left hand pointed straight at his forehead area. I fired the pistol by accident, and the bullet hit him somewhere in the side of the head. I knew I hit him because I saw blood coming from behind his left ear area and he slumped over. I stepped up inside the car to where I was leaning inside the car with my gun still in my left hand and shot Frankie one time in the chest area. Frankie’s head fell forward and began to shake from side to side. I then turned the gun toward the girl and shot. I don’t know where that shot went.

Clemons was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued his age and absence of parents at the interrogation should have rendered the confession involuntary. MSC affirmed.


Three officers testified at the hearing on Clemons’ motion to suppress the confession: Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Thomas Thornton; Highway Patrol Officer Allen Stewart; and, Philadelphia Police Officer Tommy Waddell. The officers testified that Clemons did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that neither threats nor promises were made to Clemons. Clemons never requested an attorney, or asked for the questioning to cease. Thornton stated that, due to Clemons’ age, the authorities took great care to ascertain that Clemons understood the Miranda warnings, prior to questioning.

Thornton testified at trial that he wrote down everything Clemons told him. Thornton read each page to Clemons, and gave Clemons the opportunity to read and revise the statement before signing it. According to Thornton, Clemons offered no changes, and signed each page of the statement.

When determining the admissibility of a minor’s confession, inquiry must be made into the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation. Looking at the totality of the circumstances — particularly the testimony of the investigating officers, the absence of any evidence of mental or intellectual impairment reducing Clemons’ ability to understand his rights and the waiver thereof, or any special factors attributable to his age — it cannot be said that the circuit court erred in admitting the confession.

We said In the Interest of W.R.A., 481 So. 2d 280 (Miss. 1985), that age is a factor to consider in determining the admissibility of a confession. However, for the law to pronounce that such a person has no capacity to understand and waive his privilege against self-incrimination would amount to a declaration incongruent with reality. The youth factor, accordingly, is seldom per se conclusive that a confession was not freely and voluntarily given.

No evidence was presented to suggest that Clemons’ intellectual capacity was such that his ability to understand the waiver of rights or voluntarily make a confession was impaired. Despite his poor academic record, the psychiatric evaluation indicated that Clemons was of “normal intelligence”, and, at trial, his mother observed only that he was more interested in sports than school.

Moreover, even in those cases where a minor has been shown to have a learning disability or below average intelligence, we have upheld the trial court’s finding that the minor had sufficient capacity to knowingly and intelligently confess. See McGowan.

Clemons also asserts that, because neither of his parents were present during his interrogation, his understanding of his rights was diminished and the interrogation was coercive. Clemons testified that he asked to see his parents, but Deputy Thornton would not allow it. He also testified that the police told him that, if he signed the statements, he could see his parents.

To the contrary, however, all three officers testified that Clemons did not ask to see either of his parents. Deputy Thornton and Officer Stewart also denied that Clemons was promised that he would be allowed to see his parents, if he signed the statement. In addition, Mrs. Clemons testified that Thornton saw her in the hallway, told her that she could not see her son, and asked her to leave, because she was interfering with the investigation. However, Deputy Thornton did not recall seeing Mrs. Clemons.

Based on this conflicting testimony, Clemons argues that the confession should have been suppressed. However, Clemons’ assertion (that he should have been allowed to have a parent present during the interrogation) is without merit. In Blue v State, 674 So. 2d 1184 (Miss. 1996), we said where the crime is such that circuit court has original jurisdiction, age had no special bearing on his ability to be questioned without a parent and voluntarily waive his rights.