The case, involving a statement by Jason Lee Keller, was sent back to Harrison County Circuit Court for a rehearing on the issue of admitting the third statement into the record. The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered that the lower court judge determine whether the third statement was coerced by authorities, given that the same judge determined the first two statements were.
Keller was sentenced to death for the murder of a woman in 2007 after he robbed the convenience store she owned. Keller’s attorney argued before the Supreme Court last week that the statement, which had been admitted during the original trial, should not have been struck given that Keller was on powerful painkillers at the time of the police interrogation. The lower court judge ruled that two statements obtained during the previous interrogations were not given voluntarily and thus excluded from evidence.
Keller’s attorney argued that the third statement, obtained during a separate interrogation that took place 14 hours after the first questioning, ought to be excluded given that it was fruit of the poisonous tree. The defense attorney argued that the interrogation only took place as a continuation of the earlier interrogations and relied on information obtained in those earlier interrogations.
The “fruit of the poisonous tree” is a legal doctrine which stands for the idea that any evidence that was obtained from an illegal search, arrest or interrogation will be deemed inadmissible in court. This means that the not only is the illegally obtained evidence excluded from court, but any and all evidence that resulted from knowing that tainted information.
For their part, the prosecution claims Keller signed a waiver and agreed to be interviewed by officers before any questioning took place. Prosecutors further argued that there was no evidence Keller was impaired by any painkillers.
The Supreme Court clearly felt troubled by the ruling, voting 7-2 that the trial judge failed to provide a sufficient rationale for allowing the third statement. The Court ordered the lower court to reconsider whether any statements were obtained involuntarily and, if so, to trace those statements to see if information gotten from the unlawfully obtained statements led authorities to question Keller in later instances.
Source: “Miss. Supreme Court examines statements in 2009 death row conviction,” by The Associated Press, published at ClarionLedger.com.