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Man claims police used injury to force confession
Nov 04, 2005 12:00 am
November 2, 2005
Investigators from three law enforcement agencies used the agony of a serious hand injury to force a confession out of a man charged with 46 burglaries and thefts, a rarely granted defense motion alleges.
Criminal Court Judge John Wootten has granted a request filed on behalf of Tracey T. Hepburn, 44, seeking a decision from the state Court of Criminal Appeals on whether he was coerced into confessing to investigators from the Lebanon and Mt. Juliet police departments and the Wilson County Sheriff's Department.
Wootten earlier this year denied a motion from defense attorney Adam Parrish seeking to suppress Hepburn's alleged confession on the grounds it was delivered "under duress," but on Monday granted the attorney permission to appeal that decision to the Court of Appeals.
Such requests – formally known as interlocutory appeals – are frequently filed on behalf of criminal defendants but are only rarely granted. Wootten's decision basically allows the higher court to scrutinize his own ruling on the issue and halts activity in the case against Hepburn until the appeals court renders its ruling.
Parrish yesterday estimated it will likely be "about three months" before the court of appeals issues a decision on whether authorities coerced the confession from Hepburn, who was arrested in 2002.
"We had a December trial date but that's been set aside by the judge until the court of appeals makes a decision," the attorney said.
Though now in the hands of the court of appeals, the effort to have Hepburn's confession set aside still faces at least two obvious obstacles – documents on file in the case include a detailed handwritten statement which makes no mention of an injury and all three officers involved in the case strongly denied the allegation during the hearing in which Wootten ruled against suppressing the statement.
The appeals court motion filed by Parrish on behalf of Hepburn alleges he "sustained permanent disfigurement to his hand" because of the "nature and delay of treatment" for the injury, which was documented by booking officers at the Wilson County Jail.
The defendant's motion maintains he repeatedly requested medical care while being questioned by the three investigators but was told he would receive aid "only if he made a statement."
Three days after his arrest, the motion alleges, Hepburn was taken from his cell by detectives from the three agencies and "believed that he was going to the hospital."
"However, he was again advised that he 'could go to the doctor after he made a statement,'" the motion goes on to state.
The motion claims at the time Hepburn "repeatedly" told the investigators his "hand was killing him."
Hepburn "eventually" gave a confession in which he supplied a handwritten statement and a list of businesses he allegedly victimized and was then "immediately transferred" to a local hospital, the motion maintains, adding he was "immediately taken into surgery and was required to remain hospitalized for approximately six days."
During his hospital stay, Hepburn was placed on a series of powerful painkillers and told "the nature and delay of treatment" left him with "permanent disfigurement to the hand," the motion says.
The motion notes "there is no physical evidence linking" the defendant to any of the crimes and the state's case rests almost exclusively on Hepburn's statement.
" … There is a substantial probability that defendant will be convicted solely on the basis of defendant's involuntary statements," the motion claims.
The motion ends by saying allowing the court of appeals to decide the issue could set a precedent for future such cases, noting "while there is a significant body of federal law regarding what constitutes 'voluntary statements' there are few state law cases directly on this point … submitting this question to appeal would promote not only consistency but also potentially provide the basis of future precedence."
In a copy of Hepburn's handwritten statement on file in the case, the defendant scrawled he was confessing "of my own free will" then went on to list 27 businesses he allegedly burglarized, at least three of them hit twice each.
In the confession the defendant wrote he agreed to "ride around" with the investigators to point out the places he burglarized and identified the three by name – Sheriff's Department Detective Dayton Jamison, MJPD Detective Gwin King and LPD Detective James Whited, who is no longer with the department.
Court records show Hepburn is facing 30 counts of burglary, 16 counts of theft and multiple vandalism charges.
In the handwritten statement, the defendant detailed how he spent most of his allegedly ill-gotten gains on a seemingly lavish lifestyle but made no mention of an injury.
"I spent most of the cash money I took on drugs, alcohol, expensive motel rooms, cigarettes, night clubs, renting limousines and pretty much whatever I wanted," the defendant allegedly wrote in his confession.
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.