Subject not in custody when she provided statement to police


Thomas Hunt married Tina Marie Hunt in February 1989. In 1990, Thomas, age 22, Tina, age 20, and their 15-month-old son rode in Thomas’ blue Mustang to Ashland, Mississippi. In Ashland, Thomas and Tina met two friends from junior college, Scott Hindman and Russ Brown. Hindman and Tina were allegedly lovers.

Those five then traveled to Holly Springs in Brown’s Chevrolet. Hindman was driving; he pulled the car onto a dirt road, and the three men got out of the car. Tina, who remained in the car with her baby, heard “several licks” coming from behind the car. Later, Brown told Tina that they had beaten Thomas with an axe handle. Hindman, Brown, and Tina left Thomas on the roadside, where he subsequently died of asphyxiation.

Hindman, Brown, and Tina returned to Ashland with the baby and picked up Thomas’ blue Mustang. Officer R. D. Marlar of the Mississippi Highway Patrol was working a roadblock on Highway 4, east of Ripley that night. Marlar saw Thomas’ car; Hindman was driving, and he had a woman and a baby as passengers. Brown followed closely behind in the Chevrolet.

Brown had no driver’s license, he smelled of alcohol, and there were beer cans in his car. Marlar asked Brown to perform a field sobriety test, which was under the statutory limit. During the stop Marlar saw an axe handle in the Chevrolet and noticed red stains on Brown’s pants. Brown explained that the red stains were ketchup. Because there were spilled french fries in the Chevrolet, Marlar accepted this explanation and allowed both cars to pass.

Later, Brown drove Thomas’ Mustang to a field and took Thomas’ wallet from the vehicle. According to Tina, Brown said he was going to make the murder look as if someone had robbed Thomas and stolen his car.

The next day, a passerby discovered Thomas’ body near a field road about ten miles outside Holly Springs, Mississippi. Mr. Reece went to a nearby store and notified the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office. Because there were indications that the deceased might be from Benton County, the Benton County Sheriff, Arnie McMullen, was called to identify the body. Sheriff McMullen, however, could not identify Thomas.

Around noon on Sunday, the day after the murder, Tina Hunt and Scott Hindman went to Sheriff McMullen’s office in Ashland to report Thomas as missing. Tina told the sheriff of the last occasion on which she had seen Thomas. The sheriff noted that her description of Thomas matched the description of the body that he had just attempted to identify in Marshall County.

He asked Tina to go with him to identify Thomas’ body, which she did. At 3:30 p.m., they returned to Ashland. Sheriff McMullen asked Tina to talk to Lieutenant Dickerson, a State Investigator. Lieutenant Dickerson noted a conflict between the statement Tina gave him and his understanding of what she had told the sheriff earlier.

At some point, after 4:00 p.m. Tina telephoned her parents; they called Attorney Joey Langston of Booneville. Lieutenant Dickerson advised Tina of her Miranda rights at 5:00 p.m. She signed a waiver of rights form at 5:10 p.m. Lieutenant Dickerson proceeded to question other witnesses but did not question Tina again until 6:40 p.m. Telephone records showed that Attorney Langston telephoned for Tina at 6:21 p.m. and again at 6:28 p.m., but was not allowed to speak to her. Lieutenant Dickerson interviewed Tina from 6:40 p.m. to 7:05 p.m.; during this interview, Tina made self-incriminating statements.

At trial witnesses testified that Tina did not like being married to Thomas and that she wanted Thomas to be killed because he would not give her a divorce. Hindman and Tina were allegedly lovers. Witness Matt Crocker testified that he had seen notes passed between Tina and Hindman, which discussed Thomas’ death. In addition, Crocker had overheard Tina and Hindman discuss the purchase of a gun with which to kill Thomas, and he had seen Hindman with an axe handle the night before the murder was committed.

Tina, Brown, and Hindman were indicted and charged with the capital murder of Thomas Hunt. Tina’s co-defendants, Brown and Hindman, prior to trial entered pleas of guilty to the reduced charges of manslaughter, and the State moved to reduce Tina’s charge to that of murder.

Hunt was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life. On appeal, she argued the statement she gave should have been suppressed. MSC affirmed.


Tina voluntarily went to the sheriff to give a false “missing person” report on her husband. She gave details to Sheriff McMullen and agreed to go with him to identify a body. Sheriff McMullen then asked her to talk to Lieutenant Dickerson to give the statement of her “missing” husband for him to record. She was not the target of any investigation at this time, nor a suspect in Thomas’ murder.

When Lieutenant Dickerson noted a conflict between the statement Tina gave him and his understanding of what she had told the sheriff earlier, he advised Tina of her Miranda rights at 5:00 p.m. She signed a waiver of rights form at 5:10 p.m. During this interview, Tina made self- incriminating statements of the murder of her husband.

Tina contends that she made two requests for counsel. First, she asked if she needed an attorney before she made a statement. She did not request an attorney be appointed for her. Officer Dickerson told her “not yet,” Tina also alleges that later, after she received her Miranda warnings, she asked for an attorney. She asserts that Dickerson then told her she could not have an attorney.

Whether Tina’s Fifth Amendment right to counsel was violated depends on whether she was (a) in custody and (b) being interrogated. A person’s Fifth Amendment right to counsel is not triggered by general on-the-scene questioning and/or any voluntary statement.

Clearly, Tina had been asked to give a statement and she was being questioned; therefore, she was being interrogated. Thus, whether Tina was denied her Fifth Amendment right to counsel depends on whether she was “in custody.” The test for whether a person is in custody is whether a reasonable person would feel that she was in custody. That is, whether a reasonable person would feel that she was going to jail — and not just being temporarily detained. The officer’s subjective intent is irrelevant.

Whether a reasonable person would feel that she was “in custody” depends on the totality of the circumstances. Factors to consider include: (a) the place of interrogation; (b) the time of interrogation; (c) the people present; (d) the amount of force or physical restraint used by the officers; (e) the length and form of the questions; (f) whether the defendant comes to the authorities voluntarily; and (g) what the defendant is told about the situation.

Considering the totality of the circumstances, the record reflects that Tina and Dickerson’s conversation about an attorney occurred prior to her being in custody. It is undisputed that she voluntarily went to the sheriff’s office to report Thomas as missing. She was questioned during the late afternoon for a relatively short period of time, during which, she was alone with Officer Dickerson. She was not physically restrained, but she contends that she was told she could not leave until she gave a statement to Officer Dickerson. Thus, Tina was detained temporarily in order to obtain a missing-person report. More importantly, she went voluntarily to the sheriff’s office for the express purpose of making such a report.

Also, the fact that an attorney was trying to contact Tina is of no consequence. See U.S. Supreme Court case Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412 (1986).

Based on the foregoing analysis, the trial judge’s admission of Tina’s statement is affirmed.