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Judge: Interrogation in Lander murder case unconstitutional
Jul 2, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
The prosecution in a Lander murder-sexual assault case suffered a setback Friday when a District Court judge decided part of the defendant's statement to police could not be used in trial.
Wyoming 9th Judicial District Judge Norman E. Young found that officers violated the constitutional rights of the accused man, John Thomas Hereford, during Hereford's interrogation.
At issue was whether Hereford was aware of his rights and whether he invoked his right to have a lawyer present during questioning. Deputy prosecutor Patrick LeBrun and Hereford's attorney, Bob Horn, argued the point at a hearing June 19 in Lander.
Hereford, of Lander, is charged in the Sept. 11 shooting death of Travis Armajo, 32, of Lander, at a house Hereford was renting in the 900 block of North Second Street in Lander.
Hereford, who was 24 at the time, also faces charges alleging he confined Armajo's fiancee and sexually assaulted her.
Authorities say the sexual assault occurred less than an hour after the shooting at a house roughly two blocks from the spot where police found Armajo's body.
On Sept. 11, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations special agent Andy Hanson and Lander Police Department detective Randy Lutterman interrogated Hereford.
Young determined that the officers informed Hereford of the suspect's constitutional rights and the rights set out in Wyoming law during the interrogation meeting.
Hereford reportedly invoked his right to a lawyer about 18 minutes into the interview but then decided to waive that right and continue talking. After 12 more minutes, though, the defendant again expressed a desire to speak with a lawyer before proceeding.
According to a transcript of the interview included in the judge's decision, Hereford at this point said, "And you said we could stop this at any time, so I'll get my lawyer."
Hanson reportedly stopped the questioning and left the room, saying he wanted to "err on the side of caution" because Hereford had talked about an attorney twice. Hanson later returned to the room and continued a dialogue with Hereford.
Young decided that Hereford had invoked his right to counsel, though Young added that the request for a lawyer had been confusing.
During the June 19 hearing, LeBrun argued Hereford re-engaged officers after Hanson terminated the interview. LeBrun said Hereford waived his right to a lawyer by re-engaging the officers.
The judge did not find enough evidence to support that view, however.
"The audio recording contains no request by the defendant to re-engage the interview," Young stated in his decision. "Special agent Hanson, after perceiving an invocation of defendant's right to counsel minutes before and stopping the interview, continued to ask the defendant questions."
Young granted a motion from the defense counsel to "suppress" part of the interrogation.
The portion of the interview that took place after Hanson left the room will not be allowed as evidence if Hereford's case goes to trial, the judge decided.
During the June 19 hearing, Young ruled against a motion from the defense that would grant Hereford two trials -- one to address the murder charge, and one for the sexual assault charges.
Horn could defend against the murder charge better if it were considered by itself, he said at the June 19 hearing.
The judge decided all of the charges were connected.