State v. Fleetwood

Citation824 A.2d 1061,149 N.H. 396
Decision Date28 April 2003
Docket NumberNo. 2001–679.,2001–679.
CourtSupreme Court of New Hampshire
Parties The STATE of New Hampshire v. Jessica FLEETWOOD.

Stephen J. Judge, acting attorney general (Simon R. Brown and Michael A. Delaney, senior assistant attorneys general, on the brief, and Mr. Brown orally), for the State.

David M. Rothstein, deputy chief appellate defender, of Concord, by brief and orally, for the defendant.

DUGGAN, J.

The defendant, Jessica Fleetwood, was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder in the death of her two-month-old son. See RSA 630:1–b, I (1996). Before trial, she moved to suppress her statements to the police. The Trial Court (Barry , J.) suppressed statements obtained before the defendant was advised of her Miranda rights, but admitted statements she made after waiving those rights. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). The defendant also filed a motion in limine to exclude expert testimony by the chief medical examiner regarding the cause of death. The trial court denied this motion.

On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court erroneously: (1) admitted her post-Miranda statements; and (2) denied her motion to exclude the chief medical examiner's testimony. We affirm.

I. The Facts

The following facts were adduced at the suppression hearing. On the morning of January 3, 2000, the defendant found her two-month-old son dead in his bassinet. The defendant called her mother, who then called 911. When rescue personnel arrived, the infant appeared to have been dead for some time.

Shortly thereafter, Manchester Police Detective John Patti arrived at the defendant's apartment to conduct a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) investigation. Patti spoke with the defendant and her mother. Patti, however, did not have a SIDS checklist with him or paper for taking notes. Patti saw a spiral notebook on the kitchen table and, with permission, used it to take notes.

Patti began interviewing the defendant regarding the events of the preceding twenty-four hours. She told him that she had fed the baby formula at 4:00 a.m. and put him to bed before she went to bed. She said that in the last week the baby had had black streaking in his vomit and stool. She then said, "I can't believe this happened again" and stated, "I guess I just wasn't meant to be a mom." She explained that two years ago she had given birth to a stillborn child.

As he spoke with the defendant and her mother, Patti noticed that they seemed anxious to go to the hospital to which the baby had been transported. Because Patti needed to continue his SIDS investigation by obtaining the baby's bedding, formula and other items, he asked the defendant's mother, who rented the apartment, to sign a consent to search form. After he read the form to her, she signed it.

Patti telephoned the station and asked for someone to bring him evidence bags and a camera to photograph the scene. Patti spoke with Detective Peter Favreau who had experience with SIDS investigations. Favreau arrived at the apartment and helped Patti gather evidence. Patti took photographs while Favreau kept a photo log using the same notebook. While the detectives were in the apartment, another officer called and told them to locate the baby's pacifier with blood on it. The detectives found two pacifiers but did not see blood on either one.

When the detectives completed their work, Patti tore three pages out of the notebook, which contained his notes and the photo log. On the next page, Patti saw a handwritten note saying, "Kill the Boy." That page also contained several drawings including a broken heart with the phrase "help me" written inside it, a reference to Charles Manson and the phrase "the dog told me to kill." Patti said to Favreau, "You are not going to believe what I just found." Patti took the notebook with him.

The detectives went to Elliot Hospital and talked with the assistant medical examiner, who had conducted a preliminary examination of the body. The examiner told him that he did not observe anything unusual about the body but would need to conduct an autopsy. The medical examiner estimated the time of death to be 4:00 a.m.

Detective Patti noticed that there was dried mucus and blood around the baby's nostrils. Patti recalled that the fitted sheet from the baby's bassinet had a blood stain consistent with the baby's nose. Patti then called the police station and requested that an officer be posted to secure the apartment.

When the detectives returned to the police station at approximately 5:25 p.m., the defendant and her mother were already there. They had received a message through a friend that the police wanted to talk to them.

One of the detectives first interviewed the defendant's mother. He showed her the page from the defendant's notebook that said, "Kill the Boy." The defendant's mother said, "it didn't necessarily mean it was about the baby. It could have been about old boyfriends or whatever."

Before interviewing the defendant, Patti and Favreau agreed that they would question her regarding the notebook only after they had completed the SIDS checklist. Patti testified that he was aware that the defendant was twenty years old and had an eighth grade education.

The detectives met the defendant in the police station lobby and took her to the interview room on the second floor. The interview room contained one table and three chairs but no window. The defendant sat in the chair closest to the unlocked door with both detectives on either side of her.

The first interview began at approximately 5:30 p.m. and lasted for two and a half hours. For the first forty-five minutes of the interview, Favreau reviewed the SIDS checklist with the defendant. The detectives then asked her to recount the events of the last twenty-four hours.

The defendant said that between 10:00 p.m. and midnight she had put her son in his bassinet to sleep. She then went to sleep and did not hear from him again until 4:00 a.m. when she fed him some formula, which he spit up. At 5:00 a.m., he woke up coughing. She put a pacifier in his mouth and went to sleep until 10:00 a.m. At approximately 10:30 a.m., she discovered him dead.

When the defendant failed to tell the detectives whether she knew how the baby died, Patti put her notebook on the table. The defendant explained each of the writings, but skipped over "Kill the Boy." When Favreau drew her attention to the phrase, the defendant stated, "I've had thoughts of killing him before." This statement surprised Favreau so he asked the defendant to explain these thoughts.

The defendant explained that she had financial and weight problems, and that she felt that she was a burden on her mother. She said that the baby's natural father had asked her on occasion to get rid of him. She explained that, in the past, these thoughts had led to thoughts of killing the baby. She said that she had told her fiancé that she had thoughts of killing her baby but that she had not acted on her thoughts.

Favreau asked the defendant again about the 4:00 a.m. feeding. He told the defendant that, based on the time of death, what she had told the detectives did not make sense. He pleaded with her to be honest with him. The defendant maintained her version of events but, after additional questioning, she stated that the baby had a "tendency to push his face into her chest and armpit area." When asked when was the last time he did that, the defendant said that the baby had done this right after the 4 a.m. feeding.

Favreau asked "if it was possible that while he was pushing his face into her chest if perhaps she had squeezed his chest too tight at that point?" The defendant responded, "You are coming up with things I have never thought of before." Favreau said that, as he questioned whether she squeezed her baby too much, the defendant was conversational, not angry or upset.

Favreau then "asked her at one point if it was possible she had actually held [the baby's] face down in the bassinet." The defendant responded, "No." She said that she had not shaken, dropped or squeezed him. Favreau then said, "you are telling me things you haven't done. Is there anything that you did or what did you do?" The defendant responded that after the 4:00 a.m. feeding, she picked up her son from the bassinet and held him against her chest. The defendant demonstrated how she held him with his face against her chest. She explained that "as she was holding him against her at one point she realized he was struggling to breathe or he couldn't breathe." At this point in the narrative, the defendant said, "I am going to jail now."

Favreau testified that although the defendant showed a lack of emotion throughout the interview, "she showed some emotion as she began to describe the fact that her son was struggling to breathe and she held him against her in the sense that she welled up with tears at that point. But as far as her conversational tone or her tone of voice was concerned it hadn't change[d] at all."

The defendant said that she woke up at 10:00 a.m. and looked at the bassinet, hoping that everything was fine. She did not take a close look but left the bedroom to use the bathroom and smoke a cigarette. She stated that she did not return to the room because "to get close and look at him would only make it more real." Eventually, she called her mother to tell her something was wrong. She said that "in her mind she knew she had done it, she knew something was wrong and she was hoping it was a dream." Soon thereafter, a 911 operator called her and told her to attend to the baby. The defendant said that it was then that she found the baby dead and that she was not surprised because of what had happened.

At 8:00 p.m., the detectives decided to take a break and advise the defendant of her Miranda rights. They told the defendant that they were not going to speak with her further until they went over a form with...

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