In 2006, Christy Ayala, an active duty Naval Police Officer, attended the grand opening of Club IP, a night club located inside of the Imperial Palace Casino (Imperial Palace) in Biloxi, Mississippi. Christy arrived at Club IP between 11:00 p.m. and midnight and met her friend Sadie Honguyen. The two had a few drinks, socialized, and danced with people Sadie knew.
As the night continued, Sadie noticed that Christy had disappeared. She looked in the restroom and also tried to find Christy in one of the gambling areas. At approximately 2:30 a.m., Sadie reached Christy on her cellular telephone. Christy said she was outside, but the phone was disconnected during the call. When the club closed at 3:30 a.m., Sadie and another woman looked for Christy around the casino but could not find her. A little after 4:00 a.m., Sadie left the casino and traveled home.
At approximately 7:30 a.m., Officer Brad Smith, with the Biloxi Police Department, was notified that a body was found floating in the back bay behind Imperial Palace. Smith and two other officers secured the scene and waited for investigators. A jacket was found floating on the shoreline near the body. Photographs of the crime scene were taken, and the three officers pulled the body of a dead female out of the water. There was no identification found on the body.
The Gulfport Seabee Base contacted the Imperial Palace and reported that a twenty-four-year-old troop member named Christy Eileen Ayala was missing. Christy was later positively identified as the woman found floating in the bay. Surveillance video documented that Christy and a Hispanic male left Club IP at 2:18 a.m. and were together at several different locations in the casino.
A review of Christy’s cellular telephone records revealed that her cell phone was still being used. Records indicated that a call was placed from Christy’s phone to a Biloxi school. The school director identified the person who placed the call as Rossana Chavez. Chavez had borrowed the phone from an individual in the Imperial Palace break room. She identified this person as Miguel Bartolo, with whom she had been in recent communication.
On February 27, 2006, Kimble orchestrated a recorded telephone call from a supervisor at Imperial Palace to Christy’s missing cell phone. The supervisor used a ruse that the casino owed Bartolo some money. Bartolo in turn called Chavez to verify that there was indeed a check waiting on him. Bartolo’s location was then traced to a Houston, Texas apartment, and on February 28, 2006, officers with the Houston Police Department made entry into the apartment with an arrest warrant for Bartolo.
Bartolo was found on a couch under a blanket holding Christy’s cell phone in his hand. Bartolo gave the officers a fictitious name. He also told one of the investigators that the cell phone was his, and that he had owned it for over a year. A check of the cell phone’s voice mail feature revealed that it still had Christy’s voice on the greeting. Also, phone records listed Christy as the subscriber of the cell phone.
On March 1, 2006, Houston Police Department Homicide Investigator Jesus Sosa interviewed Bartolo. The interview was conducted in Spanish and a video recording device was used to capture the interview. Bartolo was advised in Spanish of his Miranda rights, which he waived and agreed to be interviewed. According to Sosa, Bartolo first denied any involvement with Christy, then admitted dancing with her at the club.
Sosa testified that Bartolo next claimed that the two walked outside of the casino and a vehicle struck Christy and left the scene. At that point, Bartolo said he picked up Christy’s cell phone and put her in the water. He then claimed he went inside the casino to eat dinner and later went to bed. Sosa testified that as the interview continued Bartolo admitted that there was a struggle. Bartolo then recounted slightly differing versions of how Christy was choking him because he would not have sex with her.
Bartolo claimed that he in turn reacted and choked her around the neck with his hands. Bartolo demonstrated on Sosa the manner in which he choked Christy. According to Sosa, Bartolo said Christy passed out and fell next to him. Bartolo then admitted he dragged Christy to the water and threw her in the bay. Sosa also testified that Bartolo confessed to stealing Christy’s cell phone and wallet and attempting to use her credit card. A partial transcript from the videotaped interview was admitted into evidence.
Bartolo was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued he has the equivalency of an elementary education and did not understand his Miranda rights when they were read to him in Spanish. MCOA affirmed (they reversed a theft of telecommunication charge for unrelated reasons).
Houston Police Department Homicide Investigator Richard Moreno testified that because Bartolo spoke Spanish, Moreno used a card that contained a Spanish version of the Miranda warning.
Moreno explained that he read each of the five enumerated rights to Bartolo, one by one. At the end of each individual right, Moreno asked Bartolo, in Spanish, if he understood that particular right. After Bartolo acknowledged he understood the specific right, Moreno would then move to the next one. According to Moreno, Bartolo maintained that he understood his rights, waived them, and then gave him a statement.
Moreno interviewed Bartolo on a second occasion, this time at the Houston Police Department. During this interview, Moreno explained that “on number one . . . [Bartolo] didn’t understand what I was telling him.” This first right listed on the card stated, “you have the right to remain silent and not make any statement at all and that any statement you make may be used against you and probably will be used against you at your trial.”
To insure that Bartolo understood this right, Moreno explained “that was gone over in a more simpler definition, and, in fact, at some point Bartolo was actually giving me his own definition of his interpretation of the rights . . . .” Moreno testified that in his opinion the interpretations given by Bartolo were correct. Once more, Bartolo waived his rights, agreed to be interviewed, and gave a statement to Moreno. According to Moreno, after Bartolo’s initial question, Bartolo never invoked his right to remain silent, nor did he ask for an attorney. No promises, threats, or coercion were used during the interview.
The following day, Bartolo was interviewed by Investigator Sosa. Investigator Kimble was also present. Sosa used a similar Miranda warning card, and advised Bartolo of his rights in Spanish. Bartolo told Sosa that he did not understand the first right. Sosa re-read the first right to Bartolo, this time a bit slower, and Bartolo acknowledged that he understood it. Sosa then read the remaining Miranda rights to Bartolo, and Bartolo maintained that he understood them. Bartolo then waived his rights and agreed to be interviewed.
During the videotaped interview, Bartolo initially denied the struggle with Christy, but he later confessed to choking her. He also admitted that he dragged her body about “six paces” to the bay and dumped her in the water. Bartolo also identified Christy through an autopsy photograph as the person he had choked. This interview lasted approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. At no point did Bartolo invoke any of his Miranda rights.
Bartolo called Joshua Abel Coll, who was incarcerated at the Harrison County Detention Center, as a witness during the suppression hearing. Coll testified that he helps serve as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking inmates. Coll reviewed a recording of Bartolo’s March 1, 2006, interview and testified that he did not believe Bartolo understood his rights and that he did not agree with Sosa’s interpretations. However, Coll admitted during cross-examination that he had not reviewed the transcript of the interview to compare it to the audio portion of the interview. Perhaps most importantly though, Coll also testified that like Sosa, he too was able to communicate with Bartolo in Spanish.
In his brief, Bartolo cites a number of cases concerning the exclusion of statements of defendants who were questioned in languages other than their own. However, we find these cases inapplicable because they concern defendants who did not speak English, but were questioned in English. This issue is not before the Court because Bartolo, a Spanish speaker, was questioned in Spanish. And though Bartolo’s attorney argues that he spoke Zapotec, a dialect of Spanish, there was no testimony during the suppression hearing or at trial to support this allegation. Even if this were the case, other courts have confronted and rejected similar claims.
Here, the trial court heard evidence that Bartolo’s native language was Spanish. As Sosa put it, “Bartolo spoke the common Spanish language I’m accustomed to speaking myself.” Sosa also pointed out that it did not appear Bartolo had any problems understanding Spanish and that his answers were responsive to Sosa’s questions. Even Bartolo’s jailhouse interpreter, Coll, who admittedly did not speak the Zapotec dialect, testified that he too was able to communicate with Bartolo in Spanish.
The trial judge found it interesting, as do we, “that the defendant understood the situation and the questions well enough to ask how many years he was going to get for this. He seemed to be worried about that.”
B. Lack of education
Finally, Bartolo claims his lack of a formal education required the suppression of his statements. Moreno testified that Bartolo told him he had the equivalency of an elementary education and could not read or write. However, MSC in Stevens v. State, 458 So. 2d 726 (Miss. 1984), held that mental weakness in and of itself will not invalidate a confession unless it is shown that the weak-minded person has been overreached. In each case, the totality of the circumstances must be considered to determine whether the mentally-deficient defendant has been exploited.
Here, the record reflects there was no overreaching, and the trial court carefully weighed the testimony of each witness as well as the totality of the circumstances surrounding Bartolo’s waiver of his Miranda rights and his subsequent statements to law enforcement and found that the statements were voluntarily given.
Of further importance is the fact that neither the video nor the complete transcript of the interview with Sosa were offered into evidence during trial. Instead, Bartolo and the State arrived at an agreement to enter one page of the transcript of the videotaped interview, which contained a Spanish to English translation.
Accordingly, based on the totality of the circumstances including the testimony from the investigators and Bartolo’s own interpreter that Bartolo spoke Spanish, we find that Bartolo fails to show that his Miranda waiver was involuntary and likewise fails to meet his heavy burden of persuading us that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. This issue is without merit.