In 2004, a newspaper delivery woman reported a house on fire on South Huntington Street in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Kosciusko Police Officer Carl Black and Kosciusko Firefighter Mark Hill were some of the first responders to arrive at the house. Black testified smoke was originating from the rear of the house, and that he noticed window screens located on the back of the home had been removed, as well as a broken window pane located in the back door.
Black also testified that he found a note in the driveway which read, “do not say anything unless the note tells you. Shake your head yes when you finish reading this note.” After extinguishing the fire, Hill and other officials discovered the body of fifty-nine-year-old Jeanette Nowell, a paraplegic, lying on her bed. Even though slash wounds were found on Nowell’s neck, the pathologist listed Nowell’s primary cause of death as smoke inhalation.
Later that morning, Kosciusko Police Officer Matt Steed was eating at a McDonald’s restaurant when Justin Haynes, a McDonald’s employee, approached him and said that he knew “who killed that lady last night.” Steed testified that Haynes told him that Barry Love was responsible and then Haynes described in detail how Love broke into the house and killed Nowell.
Haynes was subsequently arrested for Nowell’s murder. During Officer Curtis Pope’s first meeting with Haynes, Pope first advised Haynes of his Miranda rights. At this time Haynes did not request an attorney. Pope met with Haynes a second time, and again advised Haynes of his Miranda rights. However, this time, Haynes requested counsel, and Pope subsequently stopped the interview. About one week later, Haynes received counsel. On March 3, 2004, Officer Pope received a phone call from the jail informing Pope that Haynes had asked to speak with him.
Thereafter, Pope and Detective Blakely went to the jail and met with Haynes, re-advised Haynes of his rights, and had Haynes sign a waiver form. Haynes did not say he wanted to talk about his case, but instead asked Pope several questions about his bond, scheduling, and a preliminary hearing. Although Pope’s testimony is unclear as to the sequence of the remaining conversation’s topics, the record provides a general description about the details of the conversation. At some point Pope asked Haynes if anything else was bothering him, to which Haynes shook his head, and then began talking about problems at the jail.
Following this discussion, Pope asked Haynes “if he wanted to tell us anything about the situation.” Again, Haynes shrugged his shoulders. On cross-examination during a pretrial motion, defense counsel asked Pope what he meant by “situation.” Pope replied well, the whole situation. We probably were talking about the charges.” However, Pope went on to say “I don’t think I would, I ever directly brought up the address or anything like that.”
Pope then asked Haynes if he previously had told the truth, to which Haynes shrugged his shoulders again. At some point Haynes discussed his vocational activities, his instructor, and fishing, although the record is not clear as to when this discussion took place. Pope then stated Haynes was told that it was obvious he had something bothering him. Pope stated he and Detective Blakely continued talking with him. Pope testified Haynes eventually put his head down, took a deep breath, raised his head, and said “I’m ready to do my time and be a man.” Pope stated Haynes confessed that he attempted to kill Nowell and set fire to her home, but never admitted having intercourse with her.
After the confession, Pope stated he and Blakely asked Haynes if he would write down or allow a videotaping of his statement. Pope testified Haynes told him no, because Haynes’ attorney did not want him to give any statements. Thereafter, Pope asked Haynes if he would like to speak with his attorney, to which Haynes responded affirmatively. After being contacted, Haynes’ attorney went to the jail and after talking with Haynes, told Pope that he could not advise his client to give a statement at that time.
Physical evidence found at the crime scene, including fingerprints and seminal fluid, corroborated Haynes’ confession. Haynes was convicted of arson, sexual battery, and murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued his confession was taken illegally. MSC agreed that the statement was improperly taken but they affirmed the conviction based on the other evidence in this case.
In Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), the United States Supreme Court held that an accused having expressed his desire to deal with the police only through counsel, is not subject to further interrogation by the authorities until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police.
In Oregon v. Bradshaw, 462 U.S. 1039 (1983), the United States Supreme Court said:
While we doubt that it would be desirable to build a superstructure of legal refinements around the word “initiate” in this context, there are undoubtedly situations where a bare inquiry by either a defendant or by a police officer should not be held to “initiate” any conversation or dialogue. There are some inquiries, such as a request for a drink of water or a request to use a telephone that are so routine that they cannot be fairly said to represent a desire on the part of an accused to open up a more generalized discussion relating directly or indirectly to the investigation. Such inquiries or statements by either an accused or a police officer, relating to routine incidents of the custodial relationship, will not generally “initiate” a conversation in the sense in which that word was used in Edwards.
In our case, after invoking the right to counsel, Haynes admits to initiating conversation as to his bond and other matters, but argues he did not initiate a conversation as to the charges he was facing.
Haynes asked to speak to Pope regarding what he terms “procedural matters,” including bond, scheduling, and a preliminary hearing. We find those inquiries are matters “relating to routine incidents of the custodial relationship” as discussed in Bradshaw. Therefore, Haynes’ questions did not “initiate” a conversation as the word was used in Edwards.
In this case, it was only after Officer Pope and Detective Blakely’s questions, specifically, “if he wanted to tell us anything about the situation,” whether Haynes had told the truth, and what was bothering him, that Haynes gave his confession. Therefore, Officer Pope and Detective Blakely’s questions constituted interrogation after Haynes invoked his right to counsel, and those questions were in violation of Edwards.
Therefore, we find the circuit judge erred in admitting the confession into evidence.
B. Harmless error
The evidence against Haynes, disregarding his confession, is overwhelming and links him to the scene of the crime. The evidence includes Haynes’ DNA found at the crime scene; Haynes’ fingerprints found on a note outside Nowell’s home; a burnt spot on Haynes’ jacket, as well as the odor of smoke; Haynes’ knowledge of the crime as told to Officer Steed and Officer Pope, alleging Love was responsible for the crime; that Haynes’ grandmother served as Nowell’s caretaker; bullets taken from Nowell’s home were found in the floorboard of the car belonging to Haynes’ grandmother; a piece of cloth found at Nowell’s home was similar to a piece found in the car; Haynes had possession of his grandmother’s car keys the night of the crime; and Love’s testimony that Haynes sold him a gun that was registered in Nowell’s name and was taken from her home.
Based on this large amount of evidence establishing Haynes’ culpability, we find the circuit judge’s admission of Haynes’ confession was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.