Judge throws out accused murderer’s confession

DOVER — An accused murderer’s statements were invalidated after Dover Police detectives misused Miranda rights during an investigation, the Superior Court ruled Tuesday.

Rondree Campbell invoked his right to remain silent during early police questioning about a Nov. 1, 2015 shooting death in Dover which investigating police failed to heed, according to Kent County Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr.

Near the end of a 13-page order, the ourt repeated federal case law as a “caution to prosecutors and other law enforcement agents involved in custodial interrogations: when arrestee says he want to quit talking, and says he doesn’t want to answer any more questions, stop the questioning.”

Judge Witham italicized “stop the questioning” for extra emphasis.

Detectives “did not scrupulously honor” Mr. Campbell’s request to remain silent and his statements were thus “tainted” and to be “suppressed,” Judge Witham determined.

The judge heard arguments describing several hours of questioning by police after Mr. Campbell was arrested during investigation into a Middletown man’s death on South New Street as he helped a friend move at a unit block residence.

Mr. Campbell, then 22, was taken into custody as he checked in at Dover Probation and Parole three days after the alleged shooting. He then underwent lengthy interviews at the police department covering nearly nine hours with minimal breaks.

According to the court decision, Mr. Campbell told a police detective “bye” in an interview room, and the investigator asked him if he was finished talking early in the session. The defendant answered “yeah” and the detective left the room.

“Here, the video record of the interrogation makes it clear that Mr. Campbell invoked his right to remain silent early in the first interview,” Judge Witham ruled.

The detective returned 15 minutes later, the court said, and questioning began again.

“Mr. Campbell’s words constituted an unambiguous invocation of his right to remain silent,” Judge Witham opined.

Charges against Mr. Campbell include first-degree murder, two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, nine counts of first-degree reckless endangering, carrying a concealed weapon and a separate possession of a firearm by person prohibited count.

According to facts of the case cited in court documents, a detective read Mr. Campbell his Miranda rights a couple minutes into preliminary questioning. The suspect acknowledged he understood his rights and said “sure” when asked if he wanted to talk.

The detective left the room after about 29 minutes of questioning, according to video. They returned five minutes later to continue interrogation that became increasingly more heated over 15 minutes.

The defendant said he was done talking as the detective left the room. He then asked to speak with his mother after knocking on the door, papers said.

The conversation resumed and the detective said “I mean I read you, uh, your rights earlier and everything like that, but I just wanted to be able to go back through this with you again, is that OK with you?”

Replied Mr. Campbell: “Mm-hmm.”

The detective left the room two more times in roughly an hour, before handcuffing Mr. Campbell and leading him to a cell block, the order states.

A detective and sergeant made small talk with Mr. Campbell in his cell for 10 minutes before the sergeant “coaxed” the defendant into talking more, according to Judge Witham.

According to the court, Mr. Campbell allegedly admitted to a shooting on 8 S. New Street and agreed to take police to the gun in Milford. A .22 caliber handgun was located, according to police. Investigators discussed a second firearm with the defendant in a conversation not recorded on audio or video.

Upon return to the police station, Mr. Campbell “gave a barely perceptible nod” when read his Miranda rights again and asked if he understood them.

“He then was questioned about the use of a second firearm, to which he gave brief responses,” according to the order.

“After detectives left the room and until (the first detective) returned, Mr. Campbell appeared to fall asleep.”

Dover Police engaged in a “pattern of improper conduct” that “continued throught the detectives’ interactions with Mr. Campbell that day, while he was continuously in cistody …,” Judge Witham stated.

“Again and again, the officers showed no sign of honoring Mr. Campbell’s invocation of his right.”

No discussion about the voluntarily nature of Mr. Campbell’s statements were needed due to the violation of the right to remain silent, according to the court.

Deputy Attorney General Ken Haltom, co-counsel with Nicole Hartman, argued for the prosecution; attorney Ron Phillips represented Mr. Campbell.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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