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Kansas appeals court upholds judge's ruling suppressing defendant's statements in murder case

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HUTCHINSON, Kansas — A ruling by the Kansas Court of Appeals upholding a district court judge's suppression of statements by a defendant in a murder case has Reno County District Attorney contemplating how to proceed.

The appeals court ruled Friday that Reno County District Judge Tim Chambers properly suppressed police interviews of Billy Joe Craig between July 2 and Aug. 24, 2011 — including one in which he confessed to his involvement in the crime and implicated two others — because his statements were coerced, The Hutchinson News (http://bit.ly/Us2yIT) reported.

Craig is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and three other felonies in the June 14, 2011, slaying of Jennifer Heckel in what prosecutors have called a case of mistaken identity.

Prosecutors accuse Craig of driving Christopher Logsdon and Matt Barnes to Heckel's home, where she was fatally shot while her 5-year-old son was in another room.

Logsdon was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in 2012 and given a "Hard 50" sentence, meaning he won't be eligible for parole for 50 years. Barnes was never charged.

Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder said he will take several days "to digest the decision before deciding on the next move." He has 30 days to petition the Kansas Supreme Court to review the case.

Another option is proceeding to trial against Craig.

"That's a possibility, but I don't want to lead you astray," Schroeder said.

Chambers ruled Sept. 2 that Craig's statements to police were compelled by a number of factors, including that he was kept in lockup 23 hours a day for weeks with a serious methamphetamine addiction.

Craig's attorney, Donald Snapp, improperly counseled him and law enforcement pushed Craig too aggressively to give them facts in exchange for a plea deal that would essentially give him immunity in the homicide case — which he then was not given.

"The court finds the defendant believed, and justifiably so, that if he did not make the statements as requested by the State he would spend the rest of his life in prison, and if he did make the statements he would be let out of jail and not prosecuted for murder," Chambers wrote in his decision.

In an Aug. 24, 2011, interview, with his attorney present, Craig admitted driving Logsdon and Barnes to the scene of the murder, and said when the two men returned to the vehicle they indicated they shot a woman who was not the intended victim of a planned robbery.

The appeals court ruled that because Craig believed the district attorney had promised that if he admitted he was the driver, he wouldn't be charged with murder and would receive lenience.

"Because of that promise, it could be declared that Craig's statement on Aug. 24, 2011, was involuntary," the court said.


Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com

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