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People v. Soto

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

January 31, 2017

RAUL SOTO, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. No. 09 CR 20467, The Honorables Thaddeus L. Wilson and Erica L. Reddick, Judges Presiding.[1]

          MASON JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court with opinion. Justice Pierce concurred in the judgment and opinion. Presiding Justice Hyman concurred in part and dissented in part, with opinion.


          MASON JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant Raul Soto was convicted of first-degree murder for the deadly beating of his roommate and sentenced to 27 years' imprisonment. During the murder investigation, Soto voluntarily accompanied police to the police station and cooperated with the investigation. After spending two nights at the police station, Soto made three incriminating statements confessing to the murder of his roommate, Ventura Colin.[2]

         ¶ 2 Soto filed pretrial motions, seeking to quash his arrest, asserting that his voluntary presence at the police station transformed into an illegal arrest, and claiming that all three incriminating statements were inadmissible because they were (1) the fruit of an illegal arrest; (2) the product of a deliberate "question first, warn later" interrogation technique; and (3) the result of an invalid waiver of his Miranda rights. After hearings on Soto's pretrial motions, the trial court found that the police never unlawfully detained Soto. The trial court agreed with Soto that his first two incriminating statements were inadmissible mainly because, although the police had probable cause to arrest Soto for the murder, they failed to give him Miranda warnings before eliciting an incriminating statement and the taint from that statement rendered inadmissible his second statement given minutes after his first. But the trial court found that Soto's third incriminating statement, given more than 24 hours later, was admissible based on the curative measures taken after the unwarned interrogation. The trial court also found that Soto voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his Miranda rights, despite his asserted cognitive defects and low intelligence level.

         ¶ 3 On appeal, Soto challenges the admissibility of his third incriminating statement. Finding no error in the trial court's rulings, we affirm.

         ¶ 4 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 On October 4, 2009 around 7 p.m., Chicago police officer Gaspar and his partner responded to a 911 call near 2600 South Kedzie Avenue in Chicago. The officers arrived at a gas station and saw Soto and his friend, Alberto Alfaro. Soto spoke only Spanish and Officer Gaspar communicated with him in Spanish. Soto told Gaspar that his other friend (Colin) was dead. Soto entered the police vehicle and directed the officers to Soto's home located at 3158 South Kedzie Avenue. Soto's "home" at that address was an abandoned two-story house, filled with empty beer cans and other junk, with apparently no heat, electricity, or running water. The officers found Colin dead on a mattress in one of the bedrooms on the second floor. Soto told the officers that he found Colin dead after he entered the bedroom that morning at about 6 a.m. Detective Nickeas of the Chicago police department also arrived at the scene to investigate and directed the officers to ask Soto for his assistance.

         ¶ 6 Officer Gaspar asked Soto if he would accompany them to the Area 4 police station to assist the detectives with the investigation. Soto agreed, responding that he wanted to find out what happened to his friend. Officer Gaspar and his partner transported Soto to Area 4 in a marked police vehicle with Soto sitting in the back behind a cage separating him from the officers. Soto was not handcuffed. Officer Gaspar did not ask Soto if he wanted to find his own way to the police station.

         ¶ 7 After arriving at the station, Officer Gaspar took Soto to a small, windowless interview room. The interview room was not earmarked for use only by criminal suspects; instead, the room was used to interview witnesses and victims, as well as suspects. Officer Gaspar left Soto in the interview room with the door open and he was neither handcuffed nor arrested. Officer Gaspar spoke to Soto exclusively in Spanish.

         ¶ 8 Detective Nickeas returned to the police station after surveying the crime scene and spoke with Soto in the interview room with the aid of another detective, who served as a translator. When Detective Nickeas arrived at the interview room, the door was unlocked and open. Soto was not handcuffed, restrained, or shackled to anything. Two other detectives were also in the room.

         ¶ 9 Through the translator, Soto told the detectives that he had last seen Colin alive on October 3 before Soto went out for the night to a bar. The next morning at about 6 a.m., Soto went upstairs to wake Colin to go collect cans and found him dead. Soto tried to call 911 from a pay phone at a gas station near 28th and Kedzie, but was unable to make the telephone call. Soto looked for his and Colin's mutual friend, El Moro, for advice on what to do, but could not find him. Soto later enlisted Alfaro to call 911 for him.

         ¶ 10 After the detectives spoke to Soto for about 5 or 10 minutes, Soto was told that he was free to leave the police station. But Soto did not leave and instead slept in the interview room, explaining that he had no place to go since his home was a crime scene. The detectives did not provide Soto with a pillow, blanket or mattress. There was a metal bench in the interview room on which Soto slept. Although the detectives did not arrange for alternative lodging, such as a homeless shelter, it was Soto's decision to sleep at the station, and he never requested to leave.

         ¶ 11 Because the interview room was located near the desks of other detectives, who were working on cases, the area was considered a protected area, and all civilians, including Soto, were not allowed to freely walk around unescorted. Therefore, Soto had to ask an officer to escort him to the restroom. But Soto was not treated any differently than any other witness at the police station in an interview room.

         ¶ 12 Detective Roberto Garcia first met Soto the following morning-October 5-after Soto spent the night in the interview room. Soto was not handcuffed, and the interview room's door was unlocked. Detective Garcia gave Soto some clothes because he smelled "really bad, " but he did not give Soto a paper jumpsuit to wear, which police typically provide when taking clothes for inventory purposes. Detective Garcia, who also spoke Spanish, thanked Soto for his cooperation and told him that he was free to leave at any time. Soto responded that he was glad to assist and would stay as long as necessary to help find who killed his roommate. Soto also indicated that he was homeless and had nowhere else to go.

         ¶ 13 After speaking with Soto, Detective Garcia went to the scene and found a receipt dated October 3 from United Metal Scrap Recycling Company and another one from a liquor store. He also saw the name "El Moro" painted on a wall in the first floor bedroom of the house. While in the area, Detective Garcia directed a search for pay phones because Soto had told the other detectives that he had attempted to call 911 from a pay phone earlier on October 4. The investigation revealed that no phone calls to 911 from pay phones in the area were made on October 4.

         ¶ 14 Meanwhile, Detective Nickeas went to the scrap recycling company to ask questions. A worker said he saw Soto there with two other Hispanic males on the morning of October 3.

         ¶ 15 Detective Garcia returned to the station and sometime after 5 p.m., asked Soto about his activities on October 3. Soto responded that he worked an 8 or 10 hour shift doing construction work with his friend, David Casarubias, and Casarubias' father, until approximately 5 p.m. Soto then went home and last saw Colin alive at around 8 or 8:30 p.m. when Soto left to get beer.

         ¶ 16 Soto also provided Detective Garcia with names of people who might have relevant information, including El Moro and Casarubias. Soto further mentioned that he went to his cousin Herculano Morales's house after finding Colin dead to get help and advice on what to do.

         ¶ 17 Around 8 p.m., Soto left the police station with Detective Garcia and his partner to show them where El Moro and the other individuals lived. Soto was not handcuffed. Soto and the detectives traveled in an unmarked vehicle and drove around the neighborhood with Soto pointing out different locations, including the residences of El Moro, Morales, and Casarubias. At that time, the detectives did not get out of the vehicle to approach the houses. The detectives transported Soto back to the police station and returned him to the same interview room.

         ¶ 18 Soto remained in the interview room while Detective Garcia left the police station to locate El Moro and Soto's cousin at the houses that Soto pointed out, but the houses that the detective went to were not the correct ones. Detective Garcia returned to the station and told Soto that the houses he pointed out were incorrect. Soto said he could have made a mistake and offered to clarify and show him the houses again. But Detective Garcia had to start working on a different investigation and arranged with Soto to continue the investigation in the morning. Detective Garcia asked Soto if he would stay in the area and cooperate with the investigation, and he agreed. Soto spent a second night at the station again with no blanket, pillow or mattress.

         ¶ 19 The next morning-October 6-Detectives Roger Lara and Salvador Esparza continued to look for El Moro with Soto's assistance. Soto traveled with the detectives in an unmarked police vehicle and again pointed out El Moro's house, which was just one house away from the house that Detective Garcia went to the night before. The detectives approached the house, and an individual identified himself as Javier O'Campo, who had the nickname "El Moro." El Moro agreed to go to the police station for questioning, and the police transported him to Area 4 in a different squad car.

         ¶ 20 At around 1 p.m., after El Moro arrived at the police station, Detectives Garcia and Lara interviewed him. According to El Moro, on the morning of October 3, he along with Colin and Soto sold some scrap metal that they had collected. After getting paid, they stopped at a liquor store to buy beer and picked up a prostitute. The three men and the prostitute went to the abandoned house where Soto and Colin lived, and Soto went upstairs with the prostitute while El Moro and Colin remained downstairs drinking beer. El Moro and Colin then dropped the prostitute off at her "working" place, and El Moro brought Colin back to the house.

         ¶ 21 Because of the discrepancies between El Moro's and Soto's story about what Soto had been doing during the day leading up to Colin's death, Detectives Garcia and Lara decided to put them both in the same interview room so the detectives could question them together. The interview room was not locked and neither Soto nor El Moro was handcuffed.

         ¶ 22 Detective Garcia confronted Soto about the discrepancy between what he said he did on October 3 and what El Moro said about their activities. Soto admitted that he lied and explained that he was embarrassed about picking up the prostitute. The rest of Soto's story was consistent with El Moro's.

         ¶ 23 Soto remained at the station for the rest of the day. Around 7:30 p.m., Soto accompanied Detective Garcia and another detective to look for Morales, Soto's cousin. Soto was not handcuffed and sat in the back seat of an unmarked squad car. When they arrived at Morales' house, both Detective Garcia and Soto went to the door. Soto was still not handcuffed. Morales identified Soto as "Ramon Morales." Detective Garcia then proceeded to interview Morales while Soto waited in the squad car.

         ¶ 24 Morales described Soto as a street person, who is usually intoxicated and in some type of trouble. Soto visited Morales around noon on October 4. Soto appeared troubled and told Morales that "he had beat somebody up" and wanted to talk to his sister. Detective Garcia's conversation with Morales lasted about 10 minutes. Afterward, around 9 p.m., the detectives transported Soto back to Area 4. Once at the police station, Soto returned to the same interview room that he had slept in the previous two nights. Soto was not handcuffed, the interview room's door was unlocked, he was not processed and he was not told that he was under arrest.

         ¶ 25 Around 9:30 p.m., Detective Garcia confronted Soto with the information he had learned from Morales. Soto clutched the bench that he was sitting on, shook his head acknowledging that he had not been truthful, paused for a second, lowered his head and said in Spanish "Okay. I killed him. I hit him." At that point, Detective Garcia immediately stopped the interview because, according to Garcia, he now considered Soto a suspect.

         ¶ 26 During all prior interviews, the electronic recording interview system (ERI) was never activated because the detectives had not considered Soto a suspect. After Soto's confession, Detective Garcia and his partner turned on the ERI in a different interview room. Within a few ...

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