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Invoking religion with a 14 year old with mental issues crossed the line

Facts

In 1995, Joe and Edith Sue Carley were found shot to death in the bedroom of their home. After the Carleys’ bodies were discovered, their son, George Ogden Carley, was taken into custody and questioned at the scene. At the time of the shooting, the younger Carley was only 14 years old and had been diagnosed several months before the shooting as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Carley had also been found to have a learning disability in the areas of reading and comprehension. The Carleys adopted George when he was three years old. He was removed from the custody of his biological parents when it was discovered that George and another sibling were being physically and sexually abused.

Officers Morris Walters of the Jones County District Attorney’s Office and Freddie Reeves of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department began interrogating Carley at 8:50 a.m. and each officer made his separate recordings of the interrogation on Sides A and B of an audiotape. The officers began their individual recordings on Side A of the audiotapes. After an initial denial of involvement in the death of his parents, Carley confessed to the killings.

At 9:25 a.m. the investigating officers turned their audiotapes to Side B and recorded Carley’s confession. Only the portion of the interrogation contained on Side B was transcribed and provided to Carley’s attorneys. Carley’s attorneys were informed that no interrogation of Carley had occurred prior to 9:25 a.m.

Carley next gave a videotaped confession at 1:25 p.m. and a written confession at 1:43 p.m. at the Jones County Sheriff’s Department. Carley’s attorneys were not provided a copy or transcription of the videotaped confession.

During the hearing to suppress the 9:25 a.m. confession, references to earlier conversation not contained on the audiotape led Carley’s attorneys to believe that they were not provided with the full text of the confession. To this inquiry, Walters responded that the 8:50 a.m. confession, contained on Side A of the audiotape, “was just so much conversation” and that the confession began at 9:25 a.m. Carley’s attorney asked the officer whether a video had been taken of any of Carley’s confessions. Walters responded no.

Dr. Diane Little, child and adolescent psychiatrist, testified for the defense that she had been treating Carley for post traumatic stress disorder since February 1994, a little over a year before the murders. Dr. Little explained that in association with the disorder, Carley experienced psychosis, hallucinations, and delusions.

Prior to the fatal shooting of his parents, Carley had been hospitalized on two separate occasions. Carley was hospitalized the first time due to severe depression and psychosis. Carley was prescribed anti- psychotic medications during this hospitalization. Carley was hospitalized the second time on July 21, 1994, because his condition had deteriorated acutely. Carley’s parents reported that he had become verbally aggressive at home, which frightened them.

Following the conclusion of the first suppression hearing, the State informed the trial judge that a videotape had indeed been made of one of the confessions and had since been located by one of the investigating officers.

A second suppression hearing was held to exclude the 1:25 p.m. videotape confession. When asked how he could forget videotaping the most sensational case in Jones County history, Officer Reeves responded that he had handled “several hundred cases since that time.” However, of those “several hundred cases,” only three or four were murder cases, and Officer Reeves testified that he had not in the year following the Carley double murder videotaped a confession.

Finally, a third suppression hearing was held based on new revelations concerning the contents of the 8:50 a.m. confession, contained on Side A of the same audiotape which was the subject of the first suppression hearing. The 8:50 a.m. confession revealed more than “just conversation” as it was described during the first suppression hearing by Reeves.

Instead, the 8:50 a.m. confession revealed that in an effort to obtain Carley’s confession, the officers’s held out promises of religious salvation and leniency, and hope of reward.

With hesitation, the trial judge allowed all statements to be admitted. Carley was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued the statements were involuntary and obtained by coercion and references to religion. He also cited his age and mental issues. MSC agreed with Carley and reversed.

Analysis

A. First Suppression Hearing (9:25 a.m. statement)

The investigating officers, Reeves and Walters, both testified that they did not employ the use of threats, coercion, hope of reward, promise of leniency or other inducement to procure Carley’s confession.

Testimony developed during Officer Walters’s cross-examination included:

  • Carley had been questioned before this transcript started;
  • Carley was told the truth was the best policy;
  • Carley was told the Lord says we have to answer for all things we are ashamed of and called him son;
  • Walters used the religion references because Carley had told him he went to church the night before so he figured he was indoctrinated in religion.

The trial judge declined to rule on the admissibility of the confession following the conclusion of the first suppression hearing and stated a preference to review the evidence presented before he rendered a ruling.

B. Second Suppression Hearing (1:25 p.m. statement)

Later that same day, a Jones County Assistant District Attorney informed the trial judge that a videotape of the confession which Carley gave at the sheriff’s department had been found.

During the second suppression hearing, the following line of testimony developed from Officer Reeves:

Q How many times do you make tape recordings of statement’s in felony cases? How many times have you done that over the past year? Videotape somebody’s statement.
A I haven’t made one in the past year since that time. I don’t remember one.
Q And you’re telling the Court you forgot you ever had it.
A That’s correct.

During this suppression hearing, the trial judge made the following statement on the record:

Well it seems incredible that two police officers that took a ten minute video would not remember taking it. But I didn’t see anything in the statement itself once it was presented…with the exception if there is exception to be noted, that the method of offering someone, especially 14 years old, the services of an attorney and properly Mirandizing them, it seems to me like it should be done with a little bit more consideration for his rights.

Third Suppression Hearing (8:50 a.m. statement)

Testimony given by Officer Reeves included:

  • Reeves asked Carley if he thought his parents were in heaven and Carley said yes;
  • When Carley agreed he wanted to go to heaven, Reeves told Carley that the only way he would get to heaven was if he came forward and told the truth about his sins (confessed).

We are particularly troubled by the invocation of the deity, discussion of Heaven and Hell, and the promise that “the truth sets you free” to induce a confession. Considering the evidence of Carley’s mental disability, we cannot conclude that his statements were voluntarily made.

While the accused’s mental weakness may not be the sole reason to exclude a confession, when coupled with overreaching interrogation tactics, it may become the basis for the exclusion of a confession.

In McGowan, the MSC held that the totality of the circumstances approach must be used to determine whether even a juvenile has waived his rights and given a confession. The totality of the circumstances approach mandates that the trial judge perform an evaluation of the juvenile’s age, experience, education, background, and intelligence, and into whether he has the capacity to understand the warning given him, the nature of his Fifth Amendment rights, and the consequences of waiving those rights.

The 8:50 a.m. confession is replete with Carley declaring his innocence in the shooting deaths of his adoptive parents. He proclaimed his love for them and that he was grateful to them for taking him from his biological father who had sexually abused him. That was Carley’s story, and he adhered to it until he was asked about his parents’s souls and whether he wanted to see them again.

According to Officers Reeves and Walters, Carley could never see his parents again unless he told them the truth. That truth to them was that he killed his parents. There is no evidence that Carley had ever considered elements of religious salvation or hope to see his parents in Heaven prior to the officers’s questioning.

Confessions given under the pressure of coercion are deemed unreliable as evidence because of the strongly felt attitude of our society that important human values are sacrificed where an agency of the government, in the course of securing a conviction, wrings a confession out of an accused against his will.

This court can only conclude that the officers’s strategy of procuring a confession from Carley was to convince him that he might receive religious salvation for his sins and see his parents again if he told them the truth. This prohibited tactic caused Carley to confess to the commission of a crime that he was resolute in denying involvement.

This court is of the opinion that Carley’s will was overborne and that his confession was induced by the investigating officers’ invocation of the deity, references to Heaven and Hell, and promises of leniency and religious salvation which, according to the officers’ testimony at the suppression hearing, could only be attained by Carley confessing. The tactics used by the police in this case run afoul of all the protections that we all have come to expect as citizens of United States and of this state.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/Conv7355.pdf