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State v. Stricklin

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

June 26, 2018


          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Francois County Honorable Wendy W. Horn, Judge

          Philip M. Hess, Judge


         Thomas A. Stricklin was found guilty of first-degree statutory sodomy by a St. Francois County jury and was sentenced to thirty years' imprisonment. At his trial, the State introduced and the trial court admitted incriminatory statements Stricklin made during an audio-recorded interview of Stricklin at the Desloge police station and a written statement Stricklin made after the recording ended.

         Stricklin's sole point on appeal is the trial court clearly erred by denying his motions to suppress and admitting into evidence the incriminating statements he made in the audio recording and written statement because he contends the interview became custodial and violated his Miranda[1] rights and right against self-incrimination after he unequivocally and repeatedly asked for a lawyer. Because we conclude Stricklin's interview became custodial and he was never Mirandized, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         L.P. ("Victim") was born in June of 2010. In April 2012, Victim's mother ("Mother") began dating Stricklin. On January 27, 2013, Stricklin spent the night at Mother's home with Victim and her five-year-old brother. On the morning of January 28, 2013, Mother awoke to Victim crying and saying, "Pee-pee." Mother checked Victim's diaper and found Victim's vagina bleeding. Stricklin was awoken by Mother and she asked him if he knew what was wrong with Victim. Stricklin denied knowing anything, but after seeing Victim, suggested she may have fallen on a toy in her room.

         Mother took Victim to her doctor and her doctor sent her to Children's Hospital. Surgery was performed on Victim and she remained in the hospital for five days. Stricklin did not go to the hospital. Mother called Stricklin and asked if he had anything to do with Victim's injuries and he denied he did.

         A. The Police Interview

         Officer Brad Judge of the Desloge Police Department called Stricklin and asked him to come to the police station. On Thursday, January 31, 2013, Stricklin went to the police station and Officer Judge patted him down in the lobby before taking him down the hall to the interview room. Stricklin was interviewed by Officer Judge, Officer Stacy Minze, a criminal investigator for the Missouri State Technical Assistance Team, and Angela McCreary, a Missouri Department of Social Services case worker. The interview was audio recorded and lasted just over an hour. Stricklin was told by Officer Judge he was not under arrest before the audio recording started.

         During the interview, Stricklin initially denied knowing how Victim was injured and indicated he thought Victim fell on a toy and was injured. Officers Judge and Minze told Stricklin they thought he knew more than he was telling them. At about nine minutes into the interview, Officer Judge stated, "You know what's going on. There's no doubt in our mind. I told you, we've done our homework." Stricklin responded, "Do the homework. Where's my lawyer?" Officer Minze told Stricklin, "That's your choice." Stricklin then said he was "not saying anything else," but then continued to respond to Officers Judge and Minze. Officer Minze explained to Stricklin that this was his chance to explain his side of the story, and Stricklin said, "Yeah. And that's why I volunteered to come down here."

         Stricklin continued to deny he injured Victim, and the officers' accusations against Stricklin became more direct. Officer Minze told Stricklin, "I know that you're gonna sit there as long as you can and say that you didn't do it. But I know that you did. I know that you did. And now's your chance." After showing Stricklin a photograph of Victim's injury, Officer Minze told Stricklin, "You caused that injury." Officer Judge told Stricklin they knew he did it because he and Mother were the only two people in the house who could have caused that injury. Stricklin told Officer Judge to charge Mother. Officer Judge responded by stating they would charge Mother and Stricklin if that is what they had to do. The exchange between Officer Judge and Stricklin was argumentative and at about eighteen minutes into the interview, Officer Judge said, "Well, I'm gonna step out and let you talk to these two ladies. When I come back in, if you haven't settled this up, and straightened it out, you're probably going. You're going in cuffs. I don't believe you for one minute." Stricklin replied, "I want a lawyer. Right now." Officer Minze again told Stricklin, "That's your choice."

         Officer Judge then left the interview room and closed the door on the way out. Officer Minze told Stricklin she could not tell him not to get a lawyer, but said he did not have to get one. Officer Minze told Stricklin she wanted to help him. She informed Stricklin that Victim may have to take "anti-AIDS medicine" for thirty days if they could not test the person who did this, and the medicine made Victim sick and throw up. In response, Stricklin said he was "not admitting to anything," but asked what he would be looking at if he admitted to causing Victim's injury. Stricklin asked, "Am I gonna go to jail?" Officer Minze responded, "Yeah, you will probably go to jail."

         Stricklin continued to inquire about what type of punishment he may be looking at and Officer Minze told Stricklin it depended and was not up to her, but told him taking responsibility for his actions would make a big difference in the eyes of the prosecutor and judge. Officer Minze asked Stricklin how he wanted to look: as the guy who accepts responsibility or as the guy who denies it when they are going to prove it was him anyway. Stricklin stated, "Either which way I'm going to jail tonight? According to him, correct?" Officer Minze said, "Well you're talking to me now. Let's deal with one thing at a time."

         At about twenty-four minutes into the interview, Stricklin said he did not want to go to jail today and wanted to spend the weekend with his family. He said his "deal" was he would turn himself in Monday. Officer Minze told him she could not promise that. Stricklin replied, "Then I want a lawyer right now." Stricklin then continued to talk, stating "You're gonna take me to jail." Stricklin continued to try and negotiate terms that would prevent him from going to jail that day and Officer Minze repeatedly told him she could not promise him those terms. Stricklin said, "Either which way, you're taking me to jail then. Unless you tell me that." Officer Minze responded, "I can't tell you that I'm not. I can't. . . . What guy you gonna be, you know? The one that comes in here and owns up to what happened or you gonna be the one that's gonna let her sit in the hospital for a few more days throwing up and being sick and having stomach pains?" Stricklin replied, "But it doesn't matter if you're gonna take me to jail either which way." Officer Minze stated, "Yeah, but if you don't tell me what happened then she still has to take the medication." Stricklin said, "Then you're gonna give me the test when you arrest me." Officer Minze told Stricklin they were not going to test him and stop medicating Victim until they were 100% sure that he was the person who caused Victim's injury. Stricklin told Officer Minze that he wanted a guarantee he was not going to jail tonight and Officer Minze told him she could not do that. Stricklin offered to turn himself in the next day and Officer Minze said, "I can't guarantee that." Stricklin replied, "[T]hen I didn't do it. I want to get my affairs in order. Can you please do that?"

         McCreary informed Stricklin that after he told them what happened she could help him get his affairs in order and tried to persuade Stricklin to tell her what happened. Stricklin said, "Tell me I ain't going to jail tonight." Officer Minze responded, "I can't do that." Stricklin said, "Tell me I can get out tomorrow." Officer Minze responded, "That would be whatever bond they set. I mean, if you go, I can't tell you that." Stricklin said, "I want to know you're, what exactly is I'm being charged with right now? What exactly are you charging the person that did this with right now?" Officer Minze stated it would be sexual assault. Stricklin said, "I want tomorrow to get my affairs in order. Please?" Officer Minze responded, "I can't promise you that. I mean, you'll have bond." Stricklin asked if he would get a public defender if he admitted to causing Victim's injury and Officer Minze told him he would get a public defender if he did not have the means for an attorney. Stricklin stated, "[i]f that's what it takes to keep her out of trouble," then admitted he accidently put his finger in Victim's vagina. Stricklin said Victim was crying in the middle of the night and he found her in the closet with her diaper around her ankles so he picked her up, tripped over a toy, fell, and when he did, his finger went inside Victim's vagina. He said he did not see any blood.

         After the audio recording stopped, Stricklin was asked if he wanted to write a letter to Mother, and he did. Stricklin wrote:

I admitted to falling with [Victim] and hurting her. I'm sorry I [l]ied about it but when I seen [sic] all the blood I [f]reaked out. I know you probably hate me now and I deserve it but at least know it was an accident and I didn't mean to hurt her. I'm probably still goin[g] to jail so maybe that makes you feel better. I still love all of you and I'm sorry. Please help me or at least let me know if you don't want to see me anymore.
Stricklin was arrested after the interview ended and never read his Miranda rights.

         B. Pre-trial and Trial Proceedings

         On December 18, 2015, a St. Francois grand jury charged Stricklin by indictment with first-degree statutory sodomy. On March 17, 2016, Stricklin moved to suppress the oral statements he made in the interview. On May 23, 2016, the court held a hearing on Stricklin's motion. At the hearing, Officers Judge and Minze testified. Officer Minze testified about the letter Stricklin wrote to Victim's mother after the interview stopped being recorded. Defense counsel informed the court ...

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