Vieira v. State, 08-16-00100-CR

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
PartiesWILLIAM VIEIRA, Appellant, v. THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 08-16-00100-CR,08-16-00100-CR
Decision Date22 June 2018


No. 08-16-00100-CR


June 22, 2018

Appeal from 394th District Court of Hudspeth County, Texas

(TC # CR-05706-394)


William Vieira pled guilty to murdering Todd Cameron. The offense occurred on or about January 1, 2000, but Todd's decomposed remains were not discovered until 2013, following the re-opening of a "cold case" investigation. Before accepting his plea, the trial court overruled Appellant's motion to suppress a confession, other statements made to law enforcement, and the discovery of the body that Appellant had hidden in a hole some thirteen years earlier. This appeal challenges only the trial court's ruling on the motion to suppress, claiming that the authorities (1) refused to honor Appellant's request for counsel, (2) used promises of favors to obtain the confession, and (3) used promises of favors to obtain the location of the buried remains. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.


In 2000, Appellant and Todd Cameron lived on separate but adjacent tracts of land in a

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community known as Wolf Creek in Hudspeth County, Texas. The community was developed on a 55-square-mile ranch. The desert lots in this area are accessed by dirt roads, have no utilities, and are by any measure, primitive. In 2000, Todd was in his thirties and lived alone. Appellant, who was seventeen years of age, was living with his mother in two buses parked on their tract of land. Appellant lived about a mile from Todd.

Todd stopped communicating with his family after December 1999. The family filed a missing person's report, but the Hudspeth County officials and later the Texas Rangers, were unable to locate him. The case went into a "cold case" status.

In 2013, Constable Bruce Jackson served a warrant for Appellant's arrest for parole violations in Hudspeth County and in Illinois. By that time, Appellant was living in Van Horn. Constable Jackson had previously known Appellant, and recognized him to be a person of interest because he knew that Appellant had lived in the Wolf Creek area at the time of Todd's disappearance. During the course of several interviews, which we describe in more detail below, Appellant eventually confessed to shooting Todd. Appellant claimed that he went to Todd's residence to inquire about some matters, and for no particular reason, Todd struck him with a metal rod. Appellant then got angry, shot Todd, and later that day buried his body in a latrine hole. Several days later, he poured concrete over the body, where it stayed until Appellant eventually took authorities to the site following his confession.

After a grand jury indicted him for murder, Appellant filed a motion to suppress all of his statements. He claimed his several pre-trial statements were involuntary, or they resulted from coercive law enforcement measures. The trial court heard and denied his motion to suppress. Appellant then pled guilty and elected to have a jury assess his punishment. Based on the jury verdict, the trial court sentenced Appellant to 99 years and assessed the maximum possible fine of

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$10,000.00. This appeal challenges only the ruling on the motion to suppress.


We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress for an abuse of discretion. Crain v. State, 315 S.W.3d 43, 48 (Tex.Crim.App. 2010). That discretion is tested under a bifurcated standard of review as articulated in Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85 (Tex.Crim.App. 1997). See Amador v. State, 221 S.W.3d 666, 673 (Tex.Crim.App. 2007); Krug v. State, 86 S.W.3d 764, 765 (Tex.App.--El Paso 2002, pet. ref'd). Under that bifurcated standard, we give almost total deference to the trial court's resolution of questions of historical fact, especially when those determinations are based on assessments of credibility and demeanor. Arguellez v. State, 409 S.W.3d 657, 662 (Tex.Crim.App. 2013); Derichsweiler v. State, 348 S.W.3d 906, 913 (Tex.Crim.App. 2011). Likewise, we give the same deference to trial court rulings that apply the law to the facts if those determinations turn on credibility or demeanor. Arguellez, 409 S.W.3d at 662. We review de novo mixed questions of law and fact that do not turn on credibility and demeanor. Id.

When the trial court makes explicit fact-findings, we determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the ruling, supports them. State v. Kelly, 204 S.W.3d 808, 818-19 (Tex.Crim.App. 2006). Regardless of whether the motion was granted or denied, the prevailing party is entitled to "the strongest legitimate view of the evidence and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from that evidence." State v. García-Cantú, 253 S.W.3d 236, 241 (Tex.Crim.App. 2008). An appellate court may uphold the trial court's ruling if it is supported by the record and correct under any theory of law applicable to the case. State v. Stevens, 235 S.W.3d 736, 740 (Tex.Crim.App. 2007).

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Appellant challenges three distinct statements. He was arrested for probation violations on September 18, 2013, and that same day he was interviewed by a Texas Ranger and County Constable. In Issue One, Appellant claims the Ranger and Constable denied him the right to counsel in that initial interview. While he denied any involvement in Todd's disappearance in the first interview, on October 10, 2013 he asked to speak with the Texas Ranger. In that second interview, he confessed to the murder. In Issue Two, Appellant contends that his confession in the second interview was involuntary because it was induced by promises of favors. Despite the information that Appellant provided, the authorities were unable to locate the body. Finally, on October 30, 2013, Appellant provided information to a Hudspeth County Sheriff that led to the precise location of the body. In his third issue, Appellant contends the information he gave to the Sheriff was similarly tainted by promises of favor. We take each issue and interaction with the authorities in turn.

The September 18, 2013 Interview

After he was arrested for probation violations, Constable Bruce Jackson and Texas Ranger Robert Losoya interviewed Appellant for about two hours. The interview was audio recorded and is referred to as Exhibit 12.1 in our record. The officers did not read Appellant his Miranda rights at the outset. Early into the interview, the officers asked Appellant whether he knew Todd or anything about Todd's disappearance. Appellant recalled that Todd was "weird," but provided very little information about him.1 He had heard that Todd had moved to Montana. The officers questioned whether one of Appellant's friends--"Billy Jack"--might have had something to do with

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Todd's disappearance. Appellant initially said that Billy Jack likely did not even know Todd, but around the forty-eight minute mark of the interview, Appellant admitted that Billy Jack had obtained Todd's mailbox key, and used it to take a check payable to Todd around the time of the disappearance. According to Ranger Losoya, as they probed with more questions about Todd, Appellant reacted noticeably--his breathing became heavier, his heart rate increased, he began wringing his hands, and he stopped making eye contact. At about the fifty-four minute point, Ranger Losoya read Appellant his Miranda rights.

The officers then repeatedly urged Appellant to help them, stating that they knew Appellant had something to get off his chest, that this was his best chance to cooperate, and the problem would not go away. Most of the officers' questions were met with silence or Appellant's claim that he did not know anything and could not help them. At about the one hour and twelve minute mark of the interview, and in response to an open-ended question asking, "What is it that you are you thinking," Appellant stated, "Uh, I am thinking it's about time to get a lawyer, I guess." The officers did not respond to this statement, other than to press their request for Appellant's assistance. The interview continued for approximately another fifty minutes, during which time Appellant expressed minimal knowledge of Todd and never told the officers what he knew about his murder.

Appellant urged below and now on appeal that the trial court should have suppressed any statements made after the Miranda warnings were given because Appellant invoked his right to counsel. The trial court held that the interview was non-custodial until the fifty-fourth minute, the point at which the Ranger read Appellant his Miranda rights. The trial court also held that the single statement about an attorney was not as a matter of law an invocation of the right to counsel.

While Appellant claims the trial court erred in not suppressing the September 18, 2013

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interview because he invoked his right to counsel, the text of his appellate argument adds another layer to the claim. He urges that the police used an improper "two-step process" in that they intentionally deferred advising Appellant of his rights until he made an incriminating statement, and then read him his rights to salvage the improperly obtained admission. We address this sub-issue first.

Miranda v. Arizona imposes an obligation on the police, prior to a custodial interrogation, to apprise the suspect of (1) the State's intention to use any statements to secure a conviction, (2) the right to remain silent, and (3) the right to counsel. 384 U.S. 436, 468-470, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 1624-1626, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Texas codifies this requirement in TEX.CODE CRIM.PROC.ANN. art. 38.22 § 3(a)(2)(West 2018). If the police intentionally circumvent these protections by questioning the suspect first, and then giving the warnings, they have engaged in a "two-step" or "question first, warn later" interrogation. See Martinez v. State, 272 S.W.3d 615, 626 (Tex.Crim.App. 2008). The intent of this two-step tactic is to...

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