Saturday, April 19, 2014
I write today to update readers regarding Craig Michael Wood, 46, who is charged with kidnapping and murdering 10-year-old Hailey Owens in Springfield, MO. I have three new facts to report:
(1) He has new counsel who are experienced death penalty lawyers;
(2) Hailey Owens was sexually assaulted; and
(3) He confessed to police.
Wood has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday, April 24th. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether probable cause exists to support the charges.
The test for probable cause is whether the evidence introduced at the hearing would warrant a reasonable person to believe that the defendant committed the crimes charged. Judges rarely dismiss charges at preliminary hearings and I expect no deviation from that practice on Thursday. A finding of probable cause will permit the State to keep Wood in custody until a grand jury indicts him. The indictment will set forth the final set of charges.
Defense attorneys usually have not received any discovery before preliminary hearings, so they use them to discover information about the prosecution’s case and lock witnesses into their testimony.
Because child welfare records obtained pursuant to a state FOIA request by the News Leader reveal that Hailey Owens was sexually assaulted, I am expecting the defense will inquire into that subject matter.
I also expect the grand jury indictment will contain a sexual assault charge.
Although the prosecuting attorney, Dan Patterson, has not announced whether he will seek the death penalty, I do not believe there is any doubt whether he will do so. The case is too egregious not to seek it because, if a state is going to have a death penalty, it’s going to use it to execute people who kidnap, sexually assault and murder a child.
Because this will almost certainly be a death penalty case, the court has appointed Patrick J. Berrigan and Thomas Jaquinot to represent Wood. Berrigan and Jaquinot are death-penalty lawyers who work for the Capital Division of the Missouri Public Defenders Office. Berrigan has considerable experience handling death cases and an excellent reputation.
They have already done something unusual that suggests they are diligent and know what they are doing. Yesterday, they filed a motion to suppress (exclude) Wood’s statements to police. The motion is not unusual, but the timing certainly is. These motions are typically filed after indictment, but before trial. I have never seen a motion to suppress filed before indictment and scheduled to be considered at the preliminary hearing.
Do not be surprised if the judge declines to consider it on the ground that he is not a circuit court judge and lacks the authority to do so. If he does consider it, I doubt there is any chance he will grant it, assuming he wants to keep his job.
However, he may permit defense inquiry far beyond the permissible scope of inquiry in a normal preliminary hearing where the scope of inquiry is limited to whether probable cause exists. I suspect that is the real reason defense counsel filed the motion. If so, it was a brilliant move to not only broaden the scope of inquiry, but to lock police witnesses into their testimony about what Wood said and the circumstances that existed when he said it.
Defense counsel assert in the motion that Wood was drunk, drugged and mentally ill when police took him into custody, that they failed to advise him that he had a right to remain silent and refuse to answer their questions, that they ignored his request to consult with counsel before answering their questions and that they coerced him into providing a statement by promising they would go easy on him, if he cooperated and told them the truth.
Assuming for the sake of argument that the assertions are true, the statement would be inadmissible because it was involuntary and obtained in violation of the Miranda rule.
We have been watching Gerrie Nel, an excellent prosecutor, and now we are going to have an opportunity on Thursday to watch an excellent death penalty lawyer, Patrick Berrigan.
You will not want to miss this hearing, so please join us for the live stream on Thursday and check-in with us each day between now and then for updates and reports on other cases.
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