Aldridge v. Com.

Decision Date28 December 2004
Docket NumberRecord No. 1553-03-1.
Citation44 Va. App. 618,606 S.E.2d 539
PartiesKuturah ALDRIDGE v. COMMONWEALTH of Virginia.
CourtVirginia Court of Appeals

Bruce C. Sams (Sams & Scott, on brief), for appellant.

Margaret W. Reed, Assistant Attorney General (Jerry W. Kilgore, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: BENTON, HUMPHREYS, JJ., and COLEMAN, Sr. J.

HUMPHREYS, Judge.

Kuturah Aldridge appeals her conviction, following a bench trial, for first-degree murder, in violation of Code § 18.2-32. Specifically, Aldridge contends that the trial court erred in: (1) denying her motion to suppress statements she made to police, arguing that she made the statements while she was in custody but before she was advised of her rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966); (2) holding that the Commonwealth presented sufficient corroborating evidence to prove the corpus delicti of homicide; and (3) finding that the evidence was sufficient to show that she acted with premeditation and malice. For the reasons that follow, we disagree and affirm her conviction.

I. Background

On October 28, 2001, Aldridge, then an eighteen-year-old student at Norfolk State University, was staying in a hotel room with her boyfriend. At that time, Aldridge was approximately nine months pregnant, but she had concealed the pregnancy from her boyfriend — the baby's father — as well as her family, roommates, and other acquaintances. At around 2:00 in the morning, Aldridge began to experience labor pains. Without waking her boyfriend, she went into the bathroom, where she gave birth to a baby girl. After delivering the placenta, Aldridge tied off the infant's umbilical cord. At that point, the infant was bluish-gray in color and was not crying, but she was moving her arms and legs.

Aldridge then began to run a warm bath. Once she had partially filled up the bathtub, she picked up the baby and leaned over the bathwater. After Aldridge started to bathe the infant, however, she let the baby slip off of her arm and into the water. The infant was submerged underwater for "about a minute." Aldridge then removed the baby from the bathwater and "started pressing on [the baby's] heart." Aldridge was unable to revive the infant. She wrapped the baby's body in some hotel towels, and, after waiting for a "couple of minutes," she placed the infant and the towels inside a gray book bag. Aldridge proceeded to clean the bathroom floor "by us[ing] towels to wipe it up, and then [ ] put[ting] soap on the floor to wipe it." She discarded the used towels "in the dumpster outside."

After Aldridge's boyfriend woke up, he took her back to her dormitory room. Once she returned to her room, Aldridge placed the book bag containing the infant's body inside of a gray trunk. She placed the trunk inside of her closet. Three days later, Aldridge rented a storage unit at Uncle Bob's Self Storage. She left the trunk, which still contained the book bag and the infant's body, inside of the storage unit.

The day after she left the trunk in the storage unit, Aldridge went to the emergency room at Norfolk General Hospital, where she sought treatment for vaginal bleeding. Aldridge's medical records from the emergency room indicate that she told the nurses that she "gave the baby up for adoption."

When she rented the storage unit, Aldridge only paid for a thirty-day rental. In early December of 2001, the storage facility began sending renewal notices and follow-up letters to Aldridge. When she failed to respond, the contents of the storage unit were deemed abandoned. On February 12, 2002, an employee of the storage facility unlocked the unit in order to inventory its contents for auction. The gray trunk was the only item in the unit. The employee opened the trunk and found the badly decomposed body of the infant still inside of the book bag. She also found several hotel towels and a bathmat that appeared to have been stained with body fluids and tissues.

On February 13, 2002, at approximately 6:00 in the evening, Detectives B.A. Huffman and D.A. Newman contacted Norfolk State University Sergeant Kevin Genwright and asked to speak with Aldridge and any other occupants of her dormitory room. Sergeant Genwright, however, informed the officers that the university had a policy providing that whenever an "outside agency" came to the university "inquiring about a student," university police would "tak[e] care of it, as far as the gathering of the student or going to find the students." Accordingly, Sergeant Genwright told Detectives Huffman and Newman that he would prefer to go to the dormitory room to collect the students without the officers present. The detectives agreed, and they left the campus.

Sergeant Genwright, accompanied by a residential assistant and another member of the university police force, went to the dormitory room and knocked on the door. Sergeant Genwright was dressed "in a shirt and tie," and Officer Bryant — the other member of the university police — was "in uniform." Aldridge and Tia Jackson, one of her roommates, answered the door. Sergeant Genwright told the students "that a Norfolk detective would like to speak to them down at the Norfolk Police Operations Center on Virginia Beach Boulevard." He asked Aldridge and Jackson if they would go with him to the center, and the students said that they would come along.

On their way to the center, Aldridge rode with Sergeant Genwright in his unmarked university police vehicle, and "she sat in the front seat with [him]." Jackson rode with Officer Bryant. During the ride, Sergeant Genwright gave Aldridge his "card" and told her that "they just want to talk to you," but that he didn't "know what it's about." He also told her, "Once they finish, just give me [or headquarters] a call ... and we'll come pick you up." Aldridge was not handcuffed, and she was not under arrest at that point. At the suppression hearing, Sergeant Genwright testified that the situation was different from an arrest because, "[i]f someone was under arrest, they would be placed in handcuffs and sit in the backseat," and "another officer would have ridden with [him] because [university police officers] don't have cages in [their] vehicles."

Once Aldridge and Jackson arrived at the center, Detective Huffman "introduced [himself] to both young ladies," and he "[j]ust told them that [the officers] wanted to speak to them." Huffman escorted Aldridge and Jackson into the back of the facility and placed them in separate, unlocked rooms. Huffman "told them both that [the officers would] be there to talk with them in a short period of time." The detectives then told Aldridge that they were going to shut the door to her room "[b]ecause [they] were speaking to other people out in the hallway, and [they] advised her that she couldn't just walk about freely because it is a secured facility and somebody would say something to her, but that she could easily knock and ... [they would] do anything that she needed." The officers were not sure at this point whether a crime had been committed. At the suppression hearing, Detective Huffman testified that Aldridge was not under arrest and that she could have requested permission to leave at any time. Also, because the officers still "didn't know whether she was involved," they "did not advise her of her rights at that time."

After separating the students, the detectives spoke with Jackson first. Then, at approximately 6:38 p.m., Detectives Newman and Huffman entered Aldridge's room. They "offered her food and drink and even cigarettes if she wanted." The detectives then told Aldridge "what [they] had been doing all morning starting with finding contents in a trunk at Uncle Bob's Storage Unit," and "[a]dvised her of what [they] had found there and that [their] investigation had led to speaking with her and her roommates." Almost immediately, "[Aldridge] began to cry stating that her — basically that she felt like her life was over, that she had done something wrong." In an effort "to find out what she [ ] mean[t] by that," the officers asked Aldridge "if she had been pregnant or had given birth at any time." Aldridge confirmed that she had been pregnant, and she then "went on to go into detail about the fact that she had given birth to a child that she thought was stillborn, that the child had never been born alive." Aldridge also told the detectives that, after the birth of the child, "she then panicked, and she was so afraid to let her parents know anything, that's why she concealed everything." The officers "talked to her about that for a little while before exiting the interview room" at approximately 7:10 p.m. Throughout the interview, Aldridge appeared to be "distraught."

About forty minutes later, the officers re-entered the room and "immediately went over her legal rights." The officers gave Aldridge a rights waiver form, which she reviewed and initialed, writing in "a `yes' [beside] each right" to indicate that she understood her Miranda rights and that she was voluntarily waiving those rights. Aldridge then "told [the officers] that she did indeed want to continue talking to us about what had happened." The officers continued to interview Aldridge about the birth of the child, and "basically she came to a point where she stated that, in fact, when she gave birth, that the baby was moving."

After it was apparent that Aldridge's story had changed, the officers brought in "a tape recorder and advised her again that [they] were just going to take a taped statement of what she had already told [them]." Aldridge "had no problem doing that." At trial, Detective Huffman testified that the officers did not tape Aldridge's initial statements to the police because "[w]hen [they] first began speaking with her, [they] didn't know whether she had anything to do with this incident at all." Detective Huffman also testified that they did not tape...

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