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People v. Thames

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

March 23, 2015

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff--Appellant
v.
Douglas Thames, Defendant--Appellee

Page 892

Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court. Mesa County District Court Case No. 12CR517. Honorable Richard T. Gurley, Judge.

SYLLABUS

In this interlocutory appeal, the supreme court holds that defendant, Douglas Thames, knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. During a custodial interrogation, investigators gave Thames an oral Miranda advisement, Thames confirmed that he understood his Miranda rights, and he signed a written waiver form before making statements the prosecution would like to use in its case-in-chief. The trial court concluded Thames did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights after a speech language pathologist and audiologist testified that Thames had trouble understanding spoken paragraphs regarding abstract concepts. Under the totality of the circumstances the supreme court rules that Thames knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights, and reverses the trial court's suppression order.

For Plaintiff--Appellant: Richard B. Tuttle, Assistant District Attorney, Mark Hand, Chief Deputy District Attorney, Grand Junction, Colorado.

For Defendant--Appellee: Lord Law Firm, LLC, Kathleen A. Lord, Denver, Colorado; McCarty Law Firm, PC, Garth McCarty, Glenwood Springs, Colorado; Greer Law Firm, PC, Greg Greer, Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

JUSTICE HOBBS delivered the Opinion of the Court. JUSTICE MÁ RQUEZ dissents.

OPINION

Page 893

HOBBS, JUSTICE.

JUSTICE MÁRQUEZ dissents.

This interlocutory appeal challenges the trial court's order suppressing statements made by Douglas Thames, the defendant, during custodial interrogation. Investigators gave Thames an oral Miranda advisement, Thames confirmed that he understood his Miranda rights, and he signed a written waiver form before making statements the prosecution wishes to use in its case-in-chief. Relying on the defense's expert witness who testified that Thames had difficulty understanding spoken paragraphs concerning abstract ideas, the trial court concluded that he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights. Under the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that Thames knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. Therefore, we reverse the trial court's order.

I.

In June 1994, Jacie Taylor was sexually assaulted and murdered in her apartment on Inness Court in Palisade, Colorado. Although Robert Dewey was convicted for Taylor's murder in 1996, he consistently professed his innocence and applied for assistance from the Colorado Justice Review Project (" JRP" ).[1] In 2011, during the course of the JRP's investigation of Dewey's case, it identified Thames' DNA at the scene of the Taylor homicide and on her person. Accordingly, an investigative team was formed in January 2012 to investigate the Taylor homicide. At that time, Thames was an inmate at the Kit Carson Prison in Burlington, Colorado, where he was serving a sentence for the unrelated murder of Susan Doll, which occurred in Larimer County, Colorado, in 1986. Thames was convicted in 1996 of first degree murder but has always professed his innocence and also sought assistance from the JRP in relation to his case.

On February 29, 2012, Mesa County Sheriff Investigator Jim Hebenstreit and Colorado Bureau of Investigation Detective Brooks Bennett interrogated Thames at the prison regarding the sexual assault and murder of Taylor. The investigators video-recorded the interrogation, which lasted one

Page 894

hour and fourteen minutes. The investigative team doubted that Thames would consent to talk about the Taylor investigation, so they told him they were there to follow up for the Attorney General's Office and the JRP and they began the interrogation by talking about the Doll case. Although the investigators did not initially tell Thames their true intent in interrogating him, they never told him anything that was untrue.

Approximately four minutes into the interrogation, Investigator Hebenstreit read a Miranda advisement to Thames, who said he understood the oral advisement. Investigator Hebenstreit then read aloud a waiver-of-rights form, which Thames signed. About twenty-four minutes into the interrogation, investigators showed Thames a photo of Taylor's body at the murder scene and informed him that his DNA had been present there. They proceeded to question him on why his DNA could have been found there. Thames admitted to living on Inness Court at the time of the Taylor homicide but said he did not know Taylor, never had sexual relations with her, had never been to her apartment, and did not know how his DNA would have come to be in her apartment.

The People charged Thames with first degree murder and first degree sexual assault with force in relation to Taylor's death. The prosecution would like to use statements made during the interrogation in its case-in-chief to show that (1) Thames claimed he never had sexual relations with Taylor and (2) his cool demeanor and lack of emotion when accused of this rape and murder for the first time was unnatural and consistent with his guilt. Thames filed a motion to suppress statements made during the interrogation, alleging that his waiver was not voluntary, knowing, or intelligent.

In support of his assertion, Thames presented the expert testimony of Joan Aneloski, a speech language pathologist and audiologist. After the interrogation took place, Aneloski spent two-and-a-half hours with Thames, during which she administered the Clinical Evaluation of Language Functions Test. She testified that Thames performed in a normal or proficient range on all but one of nineteen sub-tests. The only sub-test in which Thames performed deficiently was " listening to spoken paragraphs," in which he scored in the bottom percentile. Aneloski characterized Thames' ability to understand spoken paragraphs as analogous to someone falling " somewhere in the middle" of the spectrum between very limited and native fluency in a foreign language. Aneloski testified that people who perform deficiently on the " listening to spoken paragraphs" sub-test do not have difficulty understanding and answering simple, direct questions spoken in plain English but have a harder time understanding ...


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