Lawyers for a Faribault woman charged with the stabbing death of her boyfriend want a Rice County judge to throw out her confession.
Defense attorneys, in a May 17 court filing, argue that statements Judana Catherine Williams made to police following the Sept. 7, 2018 stabbing weren’t gotten legally. Faribault police, they say, questioned Williams without reading her her rights, failed to stop their interrogation when she asked for an attorney, and was so traumatized by the melee that she was unable to give a voluntary confession.
But prosecutors say Williams was told of her rights, that her reported request for an attorney was a search for guidance and that there was no coercion.
Williams, 25, faces charges of second-degree murder and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon in the death of Michael Bongers, 53. Bongers was reportedly stabbed in the chest and the arm, and had a cut on his back.
Williams’ attorneys say statements she made to the first officer on scene, Brittany Carstensen, should be suppressed because they were given prior to a Miranda warning. Carstensen testified that when she arrived at Bongers’ home, she heard screams coming from inside the house. Inside the front door, she said, Bongers was on the floor bleeding and Williams was applying pressure to his wound. Nearby was a large, bloody kitchen knife.
When Carstensen asked “what happened,” Williams reportedly said, “He ran up on me.”
Prosecutors, in their court filing, counter that Carstensen’s questions were not interrogative, but intended to assess the situation.
Attorneys also want other comments Williams made to Carstensen and later interviews with Officer Josh Alexander tossed out. In their brief, defense attorneys say Williams was handcuffed while at her home, leading her to believe she was under arrest. They also allege Alexander continued his questioning when Williams asked for an attorney and that Williams should have been read her rights each time the investigator left the interview room and restarted the questioning.
Officers’ questioning of Williams, after being read her rights, was “entirely superfluous,” they wrote, finding those were nearly identical to prior portions of the interview.
“They were done simply to make sure that if the earlier statements were suppressed that another custodial interview with full Miranda warnings could still be used,” they wrote. “For that reason, the post-Miranda confession should be suppressed.
The confession wasn’t voluntarily, they argue, pointing to the “violent altercation” with Bongers that led to his death, a head injury from the alleged attack and another to her jaw, pepper spray in her eyes and face, and residual affects from doing cocaine with Bongers earlier that morning.
Prosecutors disagree, saying officers never told Williams she was a suspect and that she said she understood she was being detained for her own safety. She later agreed to speak with the investigator at the police station.
While Alexander spoke with Williams three separate times over a little more than an hour and was given her rights during a second part of the interview, prosecutors say there’s case law saying that once a suspect is Mirandized the warning covers subsequent interviews given within a few hours’ time. Prosecutors say that Williams alleged request for an attorney wasn’t clear and when Alexander asked if he could continue discussing the stabbing, Williams said “Yeah, I don’t care.”
Her statements were voluntary, prosecutors say, pointing out that though Williams was “stressed and fatigued” when interviewed, that there is no evidence to show officers coerced, manipulated or overpowered Williams to obtain a confession.
Judge Christine Long, received the files June 3, is expected to rule on the defense’s request in the next few weeks.