A Fayette County judge threw out the confession of the accused shooter in a gang-related slaying last December, after finding that the defendant's statements were made after "coercive police activity."
Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone ruled that Manny Erevia's confession to police Jan. 8 was made involuntarily and that a detective violated his constitutional right to due process. The ruling means prosecutors cannot present evidence of Erevia's confession at his March 10 trial, and it is a major blow to prosecutors.
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Scorsone specifically faulted a detective for not allowing Erevia, who was 15 at the time, to answer a phone call from his mother during the police interrogation, and for allegedly threatening to deport his parents. Scorsone also said a detective read Erevia his "Miranda rights" in a dismissive manner "that served to undermine the significance of the vital rights."
The judge faulted the detective, Matt Brotherton, for continuing to question Erevia at length even though he said he did not want to talk about the slaying of Luis Quiroz Guzman.
"Given the characteristics of the accused, his age and level of education, such repeated statements on the part of the defendant are attempts to assert his Fifth Amendment rights" against self-incrimination, Scorsone wrote in a nine-page ruling. "Yet the interrogation continued."
Attorney Matthew Boyd, who represents Erevia, said he was pleased with the ruling. He declined to comment further.
Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson expressed disappointment, but declined to comment further because the case is still pending.
Assistant Chief Mike Bosse said the police department has reviewed Brotherton's conduct and found that he did not violate department policies.
"We found no improper conduct from a police administration policy standpoint," Bosse said. "It's not unusual, and it is in fact most often the case, that a judge will review and suppress evidence based on an action of the officer when in fact the action was not in violation of any type of policy."
Nonetheless, Bosse said, the department will review its interrogation policies to avoid future suppressions.
"Obviously, if this particular judge interprets it that particular way, we want to be cautious not to do that," Bosse said.
Six other men and juveniles — who police say were members of the Latin Kings gang — have been charged with complicity to murder in the Dec. 22 slaying: Adrian Buenrostro, 19; Isaias Manuel, 20; Matthew Silas Robey, 26; Jose Cruz, 16; Jose Chavarria, 17; and Julio Vargas-Torres, 18.
Buenrostro, Manuel and Chavarria have cut plea deals with prosecutors and are expected to testify against the four remaining defendants.
Scorsone refused to throw out the police statements made by the other defendants. The judge also declined to grant separate trials for each of the defendants.
Based on available police and court records, it's not immediately clear what other evidence police can cite against Erevia besides cell phone records. At least one co-defendant, Vargas-Torres, has accused Erevia of being the shooter, according to Scorsone's ruling.
It's not clear whether any physical evidence linked Erevia to the shooting.
Quiroz, 19, was found on Dec. 21, 2007, on Trailwood Lane, in a suburban development in the hills off Alexandria Drive. He died at University of Kentucky Hospital from a gunshot wound to the head.
The victim's girlfriend, Ana Carbajal, told police that she thinks Quiroz was killed because he did not respect the gang's hierarchy, Brotherton testified in a September hearing.
Police have said the shooting stemmed from an "internal issue" in the gang. Court records filed by prosecutors say Robey — also known as "King Red Dog" — ordered Quiroz's killing. The documents don't say why Quiroz was killed.
Erevia gave taped statements to police on Dec. 22, Jan. 1 and Jan. 8.
Detectives testified at a September hearing that they learned through their investigation that a person named "Manny" spoke to the victim just before his death. They found Erevia at Vargas-Torres' house and asked to talk to Erevia at police headquarters in downtown Lexington.
Erevia agreed to cooperate and gave police his cell phone number.
Police later obtained Erevia's cell phone, and began to suspect that he had not been truthful with them, Brotherton testified in September. But Brotherton said he did not yet have reason to believe that Erevia had killed Quiroz.
On Jan. 8, police stopped by Erevia's home to take him to police headquarters for an interview.
Erevia's mother asked whether the boy was in trouble, but police reassured her that he was not, Scorsone said.
On Jan. 8, for the first time, police read Erevia his Miranda rights and interviewed him for several hours. They also threatened to deport his parents if he did not cooperate.
(Boyd, Erevia's attorney, said at the September hearing that Erevia's parents are naturalized citizens and that Erevia is a South Texas native.)
Erevia eventually admitted to fatally shooting the victim, but police accidentally did not record that part of his statement because of an equipment error.
During the interrogation, Erevia received a call from his mother and was told by Brotherton that he could speak with her when they were done.
"The overt discouragement of the defendant from communicating with an adult who could have assisted him and protected his interests is strong evidence of involuntariness in this case," Scorsone said. "The lack of support from an adult itself makes it more likely that the defendant's will was overwhelmed."