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  • WisBar News
    June 02, 2015

    Police Questioning Illegal but Court Allows Evidence in Fatal Stabbing Case

    Joe Forward

    June 2, 2015 – Police were illegally questioning Mastella Jackson before she incriminated herself in her husband’s murder by stabbing. But it was error to suppress a bloody knife found at Jackson’s home, a state appeals court has ruled.

    After Jackson was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, she filed a motion to suppress her incriminating statements, as well as the bloody knife and clothing police found after obtaining a search warrant that was based on Jackson’s confessions.

    Police contacted Jackson after finding her husband in a Grand Chute hotel room with 25 stab wounds. They began questioning Jackson later that day. Police told her she was not under arrest, but did not comply when she later asked to leave. After couple of hours, Jackson admitted that she went to her husband’s hotel room with a knife.

    Based on these statements, police obtained a search warrant for Jackson’s home and garage. Jackson told police she put the knife and bloody clothing in a garbage can there. Based on this information, police searched the garbage and found the evidence.

    The Outagamie County Circuit Court granted Jackson’s motion, concluding police improperly interrogated Jackson for six hours without giving Miranda warnings.

    The court also suppressed statements made after Miranda warnings were finally given, including the statements telling police where to find the physical evidence. The court said these statements were involuntary, noting Jackson was on prescribed painkillers.

    Finally, the court suppressed the physical evidence – the knife and clothing – under the ‘”fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine,” since police obtained the warrant to search Jackson’s home based on the incriminating statements she made in custody.

    But in State v. Jackson, 2014AP2238-CR (May 12, 2015), a three-judge panel for the District III Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed, concluding there was probable cause to search Jackson’s home, without her statements, and they would have found the evidence regardless of whether she told police where to find the knife and clothes.

    The panel noted that police interviewed witnesses who saw someone in a hooded sweatshirt enter and leave the hotel room and heard a woman’s voice shouting before the Jackson’s husband, Derrick Whitlow, screamed for help.

    Police also learned from witnesses that the couple was having marital problems and Whitlow had left the family home to stay in a hotel days earlier. The couple’s 11-year old son also told police Jackson left the house that day, took a shower and changed clothes when she came home, and told him not to tell anyone that she had left the house.

    “We agree with the State that this evidence provided a substantial basis to conclude there was a fair probability a search of Jackson’s residence would uncover evidence of wrongdoing,” wrote Judge Lisa Stark.

    “[E]ven when Jackson’s tainted statements are omitted from the search warrant affidavit, it still contains sufficient untainted evidence to support a finding of probable cause to search Jackson’s residence,” Judge Stark explained.

    In addition, the panel ruled that it was error for the circuit court to suppress the bloody knife, clothes, and shoes as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” The panel noted that tainted evidence can be admissible if it would have been inevitably discovered by lawful means.

    “[T]he State met its burden to establish the three prongs of the inevitable discovery doctrine by a preponderance of the evidence, and, under the circumstances, the purpose of the exclusionary rule is not met by suppressing the physical evidence.”

    The court noted that police had a warrant to search Jackson’s home and garage that they could have obtained without incriminating statements from Jackson, and police would have ultimately searched the garbage can in the garage.

    One detective had testified that officers were directed to search and sift through garbage bins and go through boxes, drawers and cabinets.

    “[E]ven if Jackson had not told police to look for the knife and bloody clothes in a garbage can in the garage, they would have nevertheless searched the garage ‘at some point’ because the warrant authorized a search of the entire residence,” Stark wrote.

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