Prosecutors say they plan to ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to overturn a ruling affirming a lower court’s decision to throw out the confession a Faribault woman suspected of the stabbing death of her boyfriend.
Rice County Attorney John Fossum on Tuesday disagreed with the state Appeals Court decision, which upholds a July 2019 district court ruling, saying that Judana Catherine Williams’ unclear request for an attorney “is not adequate to suppress” evidence.
The decision hinges on whether Williams was read her rights and whether she asked to speak to an attorney during interviews with a Faribault Police detective. The interviews, which took place the day of the Sept. 7, 2018 murder of Michael Bongers, 53, were broken up into segments based on when the detective left and re-entered the interrogation room.
In the first interview, the Appeals Court found that despite police telling Williams she wasn’t in police custody and free to leave, she was taken in handcuffs to the police station and constantly monitored by an officer, giving her sufficient reason to believe she was under arrest. Because she wasn’t then given a Miranda warning, the appellate court agreed with the district court that Williams’ statements in that portion of the interview should be suppressed.
Tuesday’s opinion also found that Williams’ comments made during a second and third interview should also be disallowed because her requests for an attorney went unheeded.
While Williams’ apparent requests could be considered ambiguous and phrased as questions, both the appellate and district courts agreed that police investigators were required to stop and clarify Williams’ intent before proceeding with questioning. Because the investigator failed to do so, her remarks can’t be used at trial unless Williams contradicts herself.
Though the Appeals Court concur that the confession is critical to the case, prosecutors still have circumstantial evidence on which to build a case against Williams.
Williams, who had a history of domestic violence in which Bongers was the victim, was found by police kneeling over Bongers and covered in blood. The knife, allegedly used to stab Bongers, was close by.
Williams and Bongers were the only two people in the home at the time of the murder, and her statements to another officer that “he ran up on me, he ran up on me,” can be used against Williams.
Prosecutors have 30 days to file a petition for review with the state Supreme Court; the court has 20 days to respond to the request.
Fossum didn’t want to delve too deeply into his strategy should the Supreme Court rule in Williams’ favor, but acknowledged that the confession isn’t the only evidence his office has in the case.
“If we’re not allowed to use it,” he said, “we’ll evaluate where we go from there.”