INDIANAPOLIS | Police officers attempting to obtain a confession absolutely cannot mislead a suspected criminal into believing that he or she will not receive a fair trial due to race, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
In a 5-0 decision, the state's high court threw out the murder confession of a Gary man, concluding his admission of guilt was improperly influenced by a Gary detective who told him a black man can't get a fair trial in Crown Point.
Justice Steven David, writing for the court, acknowledged police have many tactics at their disposal to induce a confession, but suggesting to a suspect the judicial system is inherently racist crosses the line.
"This was an intentional misrepresentation of rights ensconced in the very fabric of our nation's justice system — the rights to a fair trial and an impartial jury, and the right not to be judged by or for the color of your skin — carried out as leverage to convince a suspect in a criminal case that his only recourse was to forego his claim of innocence and confess," David said. "We condemn it."
The Supreme Court said it's not enough merely to disapprove of the detective's remarks while allowing the practice to continue, as the Court of Appeals did May 31, 2013, in its 2-1 ruling permitting the confession to stand.
"A firm line" must be drawn so as to not "tacitly countenance the erosion of everything so many have worked so hard to achieve in the realm of racial equality in the justice system," David said.
"All courts must remain vigilant to eradicate any last vestiges of the days in which a person's skin color defined their access to justice."
The Supreme Court ruling tossing his confession likely means McLynnerd Bond Jr., now 28, never will be tried for the 2007 murder of Kadmiel Mahone, 28, who was shot in the head and neck in an apartment in the 4200 block of West 23rd Place in Gary.
Bond was under arrest by Gary police on an unrelated matter Feb. 13, 2011, when Gary Detective Edward Gonzalez questioned him about Mahone's murder, based on a tip Bond was the killer.
According to court records, Bond repeatedly denied killing Mahone during more than two hours of interrogation, even after Gonzalez told Bond that if he confessed he'd get to see his family and the prosecutor would reduce the charges.
Gonzalez then told Bond, who is black, that if he went to trial there'd be no one "from your part of the 'hood' on the jury, just 12 white or Hispanic people "from Schererville or Crown Point."
"They're not gonna put people on there who are from your neck of the woods. You know that. They're not gonna be the ones to decide what happens to you. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that," Gonzalez said. "All they’re gonna see is, oh, look at this, another young (expletive) who didn’t give a (expletive). Don't let them see that."
Following another hour of questioning, Bond confessed to shooting Mahone.
Lake Superior Judge Diane Ross Boswell said she had "great concern" about a detective telling a suspect he couldn't receive a fair trial due to the location of the courthouse.
But she denied Bond's motion to suppress his confession, because she could find no similar case invalidating a confession based on police suggestions of possible jury bias.
The Supreme Court said in its ruling it understood Boswell's predicament and issued its decision, in part, to set a precedent for judges to follow in similar future cases.