In 2014, Skylar O’Kelly and his brother Daylin went to an apartment to visit a friend from high school in Starkville, Mississippi. The friend, Parker Rodenbaugh, had four other roommates and there was a fantasy football draft taking place at the house. O’Kelly, Daylin, and Rodenbaugh went downstairs and smoked marijuana.
O’Kelly then asked Rodenbaugh if he wanted to trip (take synthetic LSD). They had done this previously and Rodenbaugh agreed to pay $20 for the hits at a later time. O’Kelly, Daylin, and Rodenbaugh all took hits. Rodenbaugh then went from repeating himself to hitting his head by running around the house.
Other roommates knew Rodenbaugh had taken acid in the past and didn’t get concerned at first as O’Kelly and Daylin had taken the same drug as Rodenbaugh and were fine. Eventually Rodenbaugh turned blue and an ambulance was called. O’Kelly left before the ambulance arrived. Paramedics were unable to resuscitate Rodenbaugh and he died.
The next day, Starkville P.D. went to O’Kelly’s apartment. O’Kelly met them outside and he was Mirandized. After learning that Rodenbaugh died, he said “I’m done with drugs.” He told them that he, Daylin, and Rodenbaugh had taken the drugs and there was nothing left.
At the police station, he was Mirandized again and said that he had no other drugs and that he didn’t intervene because he was hoping everything would be fine. Police told O’Kelly they had a search warrant for his apartment and he then admitted he had 450 hits that were hidden in a bag in the closet.
He was Mirandized again and gave a written statement which included that he sold Rodenbaugh two hits of synthetic L.S.D. for $20 on an I.O.U. He was convicted of the sale of drugs and depraved heart murder and sentenced to 20 years. On appeal, he argued the first statement to police at his apartment should have been suppressed because he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, hadn’t slept in 18 hours, and had just learned that his friend had died. MCOA reversed the depraved heart murder charge (they didn’t believe the elements were met – not discussed below) and affirmed the drug conviction.
Lieutenant Shawn Word testified that he advised O’Kelly of his rights at the very beginning of their conversation at the apartment. A second officer—Taylor Wells—who was present at the apartment corroborated Word’s testimony.
Word and Wells both testified that O’Kelly did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, that his speech was normal, and that he was lucid and coherent. Both testified that O’Kelly appeared to understand his rights and that his statements were made voluntarily, without any threats or coercion. Word also testified that O’Kelly was not in custody at the outset of their conversation.
O’Kelly’s argument on appeal is without merit for several reasons. First, he cites no legal authority. Second, because O’Kelly did not testify at the suppression hearing, there was no evidence before the trial judge that O’Kelly was still high on drugs or did not recall receiving a Miranda warning. Third, the testimony of Word and Wells is substantial evidence that supports the trial judge’s finding that O’Kelly’s waiver and subsequent statements were given knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.
In addition, O’Kelly fails to address the admissibility of his subsequent oral and written statements at the police station, which provided more detail and more incriminating information than his initial statements to Word at the apartment.