KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s now up to Michigan’s Court of Appeals as to whether police interviews involving Kalamazoo shooting rampage suspect Jason Dalton will be allowed at trial.
Dalton, 47, of Cooper Township, faces 16 criminal counts, including six counts of murder, in connection to the Feb. 20, 2016 shootings in and around Kalamazoo. Father and son Rich and Tyler Smith, Judy Brown, Barbara Hawthorne, Mary Jo Nye and Mary Lou Nye were killed. Two other people, then-14-year-old Abigail Kopf and Tiana Carruthers, were seriously injured but survived.
The Michigan Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids heard arguments from Dalton’s defense team and the prosecution Tuesday morning, as ordered by the Michigan Supreme Court in March.
>>App users: Watch the appeals court arguments here.
MIRANDA RIGHTS EXCEPTION
The decision over Dalton’s statements during his first police interview hinges on the public safety exception to Miranda Rights. Dalton repeatedly invoked his right to remain silent, but eventually answered questions by police that may incriminate him, including inquiries about a potential other shooter or more crime scenes.
The prosecution argues those questions fell under the public safety exception, meaning the questioning was meant to ensure the safety of others within the community.
“In that moment, in that (interview) room at that time, their (the detectives’)number one priority was to make sure that Kalamazoo was safe,” Kalamazoo County Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Williams said after the hearing.
However, Dalton’s defense attorney also said the line of questioning couldn’t be considered for the public’s safety, since it happened so late into the interview process.
One judge also pointed out how Michigan has never heard a case when the public safety exception to Miranda Rights was allowed after someone invoked their Miranda Rights.
“I’d say what’s the difference,” assistant prosecutor Mark Holsomback said, as to the timing of the public safety exception.
“You are in effect asking us to make new case law here,” Judge Jane Markey said, also pointing to how detectives’ line of questioning — asking about other shooting scenes — was an indirect way of soliciting a confession of sorts.
Dalton’s lawyer further questioned the integrity of his clients’ statements based on the timing, saying Dalton invoked his right to remain silent more than 40 times and had asked for a lawyer, but was not given one.
“He says ‘I want to speak to an attorney.’ They never him an opportunity to do so. And immediately after he invokes his right to an attorney, they then reread him his Miranda Rights and he supposedly waives them,” said appeals attorney Anastase Markou, using air quotes.
“He’s allowed to change his mind and waive Miranda Rights,” Holsomback said.
Dalton’s lawyer said the potentially incriminating statements came during Dalton’s second interview, which started about 11 hours after the first one ended.
“Let’s be realistic here. He’d been interviewed for hours the day before, invoked his rights over 40 times, was ignored repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly. Bottom line, that happened. Second interview, same thing. He invokes his rights, the officers never even give him an opportunity to breathe, they never give him an opportunity to speak to an attorney, and the officer remains in the room the entire time with him, says ‘We can talk a little bit. We’ll share a Coke. We’ll just talk a little bit.’ That’s not initiation, because he never had an opportunity to be free and clear of the police and he never had an opportunity to speak to an attorney,” Markou said.
One judge pointed out Dalton seemed to know enough to ask to remain silent and ask for an attorney, yet he continued to talk.
Holsomback also questioned whether Dalton saying “I think I probably need to talk to an attorney” could be considered a direct request of an attorney, as protected under the Constitution.
“Bottom line, no attorney was ever provided. I think it’s as simple as that,” Dalton’s attorney said.
RIGHTS IN THE FACE OF TRAGEDY
The prosecution said taking Dalton’s statements out of the context of a trial puts their side at a disadvantage, since there is “substantial evidence” of his guilt. Still, they remain confident in the case against Dalton.
“This is a case that is not a ‘who done it.’ There are eyewitnesses to the murders. The murders are caught on video tape, the defendant was caught with the gun, and the shell casings from the murder scene matched the weapon,” Holsomback said.
“If the statements come in, it’s one more thing in that toolbox. If they don’t, I still think we have a very strong case,” Williams added after the hearing.
Holsomback pointed out that the prosecution may not even need Dalton’s police interview because he made “substantially similar” statements to the forensic examiner as part of his exam. If Dalton pleads insanity as expected, the jury may hear the forensic examiner’s report.
Dalton, 47, was working as an Uber driver the night of the shootings, though none of the shooting victims were his passengers. According to police reports, he told investigators that a “devil” showed up on his Uber app and controlled his body. He said the app would make different noises to tell him who he should kill.
“What happened in Kalamazoo is tragic. There’s no question about that. But we’re dealing with the Fifth and Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and of the Michigan Constitution. You’ve got someone who has asked to remain silent. You’ve got someone who has asked for an attorney. Both ignored,” Judge William Murphy said in court Tuesday.
“No matter what type of crime it is, everyone is entitled to their Constitutional protections. He was not afforded those in his case,” Markou added.
VICTIM’S SON: ‘THERE’S FRUSTRATION’
Robert Reynolds, the son of shooting victim Judy Brown, came to Grand Rapids for Tuesday’s hearing.
“There’s frustration,” Reynolds said afterwards. “We just have to do what we have to do to get to the end.”
The road to closure has been long and frustrating for Reynolds. Two and a half years after his mother and five others were killed, the man charged has yet to face trial.
A Kalamazoo County judge previously ruled that some of Dalton’s statements should be suppressed, but that most of them could be entered as evidence at trial — a decision Dalton appealed.
“It’s a roller coaster ride,” Reynolds said. “And not just me. There’s my whole family, the other victim’s families.”
As appeals continue to drag out the legal proceedings, what Reynolds wants from all of it is simple.
“Closure,” he said. “Justice to be served.”
Attorneys expect a decision from the Michigan Court of Appeals in two to three weeks.
***CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the assistant prosecutor arguing the case as Jeff Williams, not Mark Holsomback. We regret this error, which has since been corrected.***