COLUMBIA — A Columbia man convicted of killing his 22-month old son should get a new trial because prosecutors used statements to convict him that should not have been allowed, the state Court of Appeals said in a ruling July 31.
The case is State v. Navy (South Carolina Lawyers Weekly No. 011-159-06, 13 pages).
Kenneth Navy Jr., 28, was convicted of homicide by child abuse in June 2003 in the death of his son, Kenneth Navy III, earlier that year.
His attorney argued that prosecutors should not have been able to enter into evidence a statement about Navy’s treatment of his son the day he died. Navy’s statement was made before he was read his rights.
The trial court had determined that Navy was not in custody at the time he made the statement. The Appeals Court disagreed, saying the circumstances under which Navy was questioned would lead a reasonable person “to believe themselves to be in custody.”
Officers went to Navy’s home to ask him to come into the police station for questioning. The officers told Navy the questioning could not wait until after his son’s funeral.
“One could reasonably interpret the officers’ refusal to delay the questioning until after the funeral as a mandate to accompany the officers,” Judge Don Beatty wrote for the three-judge appeals panel. “Navy was further transported to the [Richland County] Sheriff’s Department in the backseat of a patrol car, rendering him unable to return home on his own.”
The court said investigators also had the results of the child’s autopsy report before questioning Navy, “indicating the purpose of the questioning was to obtain” an incriminating statement.
Assistant Richland County prosecutor Luck Campbell said her office will ask state Attorney General Henry McMaster to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Attorney general’s spokesman Mark Plowden said the first step will be to ask the appeals panel for a rehearing. If that is denied, the attorney general would appeal to the state’s highest court.
Appellant attorney Robert M. Dudek of Columbia said the Appeals Court called “nonsense” on a widely used police tactic.
“It’s a very bad faith, down and dirty police technique to get around Miranda,” Dudek said. Miranda is a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring police to inform suspects of their constitutional right not to incriminate themselves when they are taken into custody.
“They go pick up Navy knowing full well that he’s not going anywhere, that they are going to charge him with homicide by child abuse,” Dudek said. “It’s nonsense. The police knew exactly what they were doing.”
Navy has maintained his innocence, saying a congenital lung disorder led to his son’s death.