People v. Root, 083117 MICA, 331123

Docket Nº:331123
Opinion Judge:PER CURIAM.
Party Name:PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ROBIN LYNN ROOT, Defendant-Appellant.
Judge Panel:Before: Sawyer, P.J., and Hoekstra and Beckering, JJ.
Case Date:August 31, 2017
Court:Court of Appeals of Michigan
 
FREE EXCERPT

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

ROBIN LYNN ROOT, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 331123

Court of Appeals of Michigan

August 31, 2017

UNPUBLISHED

Kent Circuit Court LC No. 15-004835-FC

Before: Sawyer, P.J., and Hoekstra and Beckering, JJ.

PER CURIAM.

Defendant, Robin Lynn Root, appeals by right her conviction following a jury trial of first-degree premeditated murder, MCL 750.316(1)(a), arising from the death of Janna Kelly in December 2007. The trial court sentenced Root to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. Among other claims of error on appeal, Root contends that her conviction should be reversed because the trial court erroneously denied her motion to suppress portions of her April 27, 2015 videotaped statement to the police that were obtained in violation of her constitutional rights. Namely, she contends that police procured her statements through what turned into a custodial interrogation without informing her of her Miranda1 rights, thus depriving her of her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Because we agree with Root that the trial court should have suppressed portions of her videotaped statement and that the error was not harmless, we must vacate her conviction and remand for a new trial. As she will be facing a new trial, we will also briefly address her other issues on appeal.

I. BASIC FACTS

On the evening of December 4, 2007, Janna Kelly went missing from her Grand Rapids, Michigan, home. Her daughter and boss became concerned, and a police investigation ensued after Kelly's purse, wallet, and a fleece jacket were discovered abandoned at a local car wash the next day. Police also discovered Kelly's car parked in a neighborhood within walking distance of Kelly's home. Officers found blood on the car and on the jacket; test results showed that it belonged to an unidentified female donor. Officers also obtained Kelly's phone records and found that her phone had traveled from Grand Rapids to a location in Ottawa County on December 5, 2007.

In the course of looking for her mother, Kelly's daughter searched her mother's house and discovered that Root had called Kelly's home phone on the night of her disappearance. The daughter also discovered a note Kelly had written indicating that she was arranging to have Root pay a judgment that Kelly obtained against Root after she evicted Root from the duplex that she owned. The duplex was located behind Kelly's home.

Detective Tim DeVries with the Grand Rapids Police Department interviewed Root on Thursday, December 6, 2007. At the request of police, Root and her live-in male companion drove to the police station to be interviewed. Root's interview was recorded. At the time of the interview, Root was living in a different rental home located behind Kelly's house. Root acknowledged that when the police first approached her house that day, she told them they were probably there to talk with her about her ex-landlord. She explained that she saw the news story on television that evening and recognized Kelly immediately. Root stated that she had last seen Kelly the Saturday before and acknowledged that it was in regard to money she owed Kelly for unpaid rent, for which Kelly had obtained a judgment. Root described her personal encounters with Kelly on Wednesday, November 28 and Saturday, December 1, 2007, both occurring at Kelly's house. She was very detailed in answering questions concerning her whereabouts in the days leading up to Kelly's disappearance, including where she was when making two telephone calls to Kelly-at 5:02 p.m. and at 6:15 p.m.2-on Tuesday, December 4, 2007, the evening Kelly disappeared. However, when asked about her activities on Wednesday, December 5, 2007, which was the day after Kelly's disappearance and only one day prior to the police interview, she took a long time to answer and became extremely vague. She stated that she was home for the most part, but that she was also over at her daughter's house and ran some errands. When asked about what errands she ran, she stated that one of them included getting gas. When asked what gas station she went to, Root said she could not recall, but that it was probably one of two that she typically uses. She stated that the farthest she drove that day was to pick up her son at his school, Forest Hills Central, which is located in Cascade, Michigan. When asked if she ever gets up to Grand Haven, Hudsonville, Jenison, or Zeeland, she said no, "I don't try and go that far" and that there was no reason for either her or her male companion to be out that way. Root voluntarily provided a DNA sample; it was not immediately sent to the lab for testing.

In March 2008, a surveyor discovered Kelly's remains while surveying a property in Grand Haven Township. Testimony and evidence established that someone had stripped Kelly of her clothing, dumped her in a secluded area, and set her on fire using gasoline, with charring most prominent around her face and upper body. There was also evidence that her mouth and limbs had been duct taped. Due to the partial burning, exposure to the environment, and animal activity, the medical examiner could not determine whether the perpetrator had asphyxiated Kelly. The medical examiner determined that Kelly died from homicide by unspecified means.

More than six years passed without discovering who killed Kelly. In 2014, cold case detectives Venus Repper and Kreg Brace with the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office reviewed Kelly's case. Repper noticed that some DNA profiles had not been sent to the laboratory that tested the blood from Kelly's car and the jacket found at the carwash. She contacted DeVries about her discovery and the additional samples were sent to the lab. The results of the testing showed that the blood matched Root's DNA profile. DeVries also analyzed cell phone data and learned that Root's cell phone had moved along the same path at the same time that Kelly's cell phone had traveled west from Grand Rapids to Grand Haven on Wednesday, December 5, 2007. Root's cell phone stopped for a period of time in the same area where Kelly's remains were later found.

Repper and Brace contacted Root and visited her home on April 21, 2015, conducting a short, audiotaped interview, and arranging for her to visit the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office in West Olive the next day for a formal interview. The detectives did not inform Root about the DNA and cell phone evidence they had obtained. The following day, Root drove herself to the Sheriff's Office, where, in another audiotaped interview, she answered casual questions for 90 minutes before cutting the interview short in order to pick up her granddaughters from school. The interview ended before any detailed discussion of Root's whereabouts and activities at the time of Kelly's disappearance. Root arranged with detectives to complete the interview on another day. On April 27, 2015, Root again drove herself to the Sherriff's Office, where her interview with detectives began at 11:44 a.m. and lasted for approximately six hours. The interview was videotaped.3 After several hours of questioning, the detectives extracted from Root a confession. Root unsuccessfully sought to suppress the confession from being admitted as evidence at trial.

At her trial, Root conceded that she killed Kelly and dumped her remains in Ottawa County, but she argued that Kelly's death was an accident and that she covered up the crime out of panic. As already noted, the jury rejected Root's defense and found her guilty.

Root now appeals in this Court.

II. MOTION TO SUPPRESS CONFESSION

Root first argues that the trial court erred when it denied her motion to suppress portions of her April 27, 2015 interview with detectives. She maintains that her inculpatory statements were inadmissible at trial because the detectives failed to advise her of her constitutional right against self-incrimination as required by the Miranda decision before subjecting her to a custodial interrogation. Based on a careful review of the record, we conclude that by the time detectives were able to procure a confession from Root, the interrogation had turned custodial.

A. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

This Court reviews the trial court's factual findings underlying its decision on a motion to suppress for clear error. People v Vaughn, 291 Mich.App. 183, 188; 804 N.W.2d 764 (2010), vacated not in relevant part, 491 Mich. 642 (2012). "However, this Court reviews de novo, as a question of law, whether the facts show that defendant was in custody and entitled to Miranda warnings." Id.

B. CUSTODIAL INTERROGATION

In Miranda, the Supreme Court of the United States recognized that that there was a heightened risk of improper coercion when a suspect is subjected to a custodial interrogation. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 455...

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