GALLIPOLIS — During a hearing late last month in a case against a man charged in connection with a recent murder, the Common Pleas Court of Gallia County overruled a motion by the defense to suppress statements allegedly obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.
The motion filed by defense counsel, Pat Story, in August, discusses a statement uttered by the defendant, Eugene O. Wasonga, 25, Point Pleasant, W.Va., during an interview conducted by Agent Fitch of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI) during the investigation into the murder of Zane T. Taylor, 33.
Wasonga was charged along with James C. Garrett, 21, Point Pleasant, W.Va., Lacey S. Redmond, 25, Gallipolis, and Steven L. Williams, 31, Bidwell, in connection with Taylor’s death earlier this year.
The victim was found deceased in his home at 1841 Ohio 218 on June 11. Preliminary autopsy reports indicated that Taylor had hemorrhaging about the neck area — injuries that could have resulted from having one’s neck held from behind.
The four suspects were later arrested and charged in connection with the case.
Garrett is the only suspect being charged with murder and is also facing charges of aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery.
Redmond, Williams and Wasonga are being charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, aggravated robbery and complicity to commit murder.
According to a journal entry filed with the clerk of courts late last month, the defendant maintains that, although he was given his Miranda rights and signed a waiver, the statement/confession he gave to the BCI agent was involuntary as he was motivated by statements that a reasonable person would understand to be an offer of leniency.
The statement in which the defense argued should be suppressed was made by Agent Fitch while interviewing the defendant. According to the entry, during his interrogation of Wasonga, Fitch stated, “By you saying you wasn’t in that house is probably not going to be good for you … it’s probably going to get you criminally charged.”
The entry compiled by the court further states, “Defendant argues that by making this statement, Agent Fitch clearly implied that in order to avoid being ‘criminally charged’, Defendant would be required to say that he entered the house where the alleged murder took place. Defendant did later tell the officers that he entered the house.”
The defense relies upon cases previously decided in courts in Ohio in its argument to suppress the statement. In the cases cited, the law enforcement officers specifically make promises to the defendant that, if they receive cooperation, the defendant will receive leniency.
Additionally, the entry states that the court, in considering its verdict, considered the defendant’s background — “a twenty-five year old college student with no significant criminal record” — as well as the totality of the interview.
“…[T]he length of the interview was only about an hour and appeared to be laid-back and somewhat relaxed with no apparent intensity. There was no physical deprivation nor mistreatment observed on the video of the interview. There were no threats. Except for this one isolated alleged inducement argued by Defendant, there were no inducements.”
The court further states, the statement made by the interrogator cannot be taken as a “promise.”
“This [aforementioned] statement is not equivalent to a promise, actual or implied, that Defendant would avoid being “criminally charged” if he stated [h]e entered the house. The court so finds.”
The entry, signed by Common Pleas Judge D. Dean Evans further overrules the defense’s motion to suppress statements made by the defendant in this case.
Negotiations in the cases against the co-defendants charged in connection with the Zane Taylor murder are ongoing. All four suspects have remained in custody since their arrest on June 12. They are being held under $1 million, 10 percent, bonds.