ST. GEORGE — The stakes are high when police fail to properly give Miranda warnings as a suspect’s incriminating statements and confessions might be disallowed – at least for the purpose of proving the defendant’s guilt. Such is the case with statements made by one of three defendants facing charges related to the 2016 kidnapping and death of Santa Clara resident David Heisler.
Tammy Renee Freeman, 54, appeared before Judge Jeffrey Wilcox in Washington County 5th District Court Friday with her defense attorney, Gary Pendleton, to present evidence that shows statements made by Freeman during questioning by Santa Clara-Ivins Police on July 5 and July 9, 2016, should be suppressed.
Police obtained those statements, Pendleton said, in violation of Freeman’s Miranda rights.
Miranda rights arise from the 1966 Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona, requiring police to inform suspects they have the right to remain silent; anything they say can be used against them in court; they have the right to an attorney; and an attorney will be provided to them at no charge if they cannot afford to pay.
Freeman was arrested July 9, 2016, for her alleged role in the abduction of David Heisler from his Santa Clara Home in June 2016. She faces charges of first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping, first-degree felony aggravated burglary and second-degree felony theft.
During Friday’s evidentiary hearing, both the defense and prosecution attorneys noted they were initially under the impression that, at the time she was interviewed on those dates, Freeman had voluntarily left her home to go with officers to the Police Department for questioning and that she was not in custody at that time.
“What we have discovered in reviewing the evidence that has been made available,” Pendleton told the court, “is that there is really no question that she was in custody at the time she was transported from her home.”
The prosecution acknowledged the Miranda concern. Washington County Deputy Attorney Zachary Weiland told the court the state has agreed not to use Freeman’s statements made on July 5 and July 9, 2016, except to impeach her credibility and to rebut her testimony if she chooses to takes the stand and testify at trial.
“After reviewing the tapes of the bodycam video of the officers,” Weiland said, “we believe that there was a custodial interrogation done …. We believe that there is a good faith effort to suppress those statements rather than having a hearing.”
The agreed suppression was granted with written order to be prepared and signed by the parties and the court in the coming weeks.
Any motions for suppression of additional evidence will be heard Aug. 7 during an All Pending Motions Hearing three months before trial.
Based upon evidence of the Miranda violation, Pendleton further requested a hearing for the court to revisit reducing Freeman’s $50,000 cash-only bail currently required for her release pending trial.
Wilcox set a bail reduction hearing for April 18 at 2 p.m.
The state will argue against the defense’s proposed bail reduction.
“I will bring forth evidence at that bail hearing,” Weiland told the court, “because we adamantly oppose any reduction of bail at this time.”
Following Friday’s hearing, when asked what it meant for the state’s case to not be able to use the statements Freeman made to police, Weiland told St. George News: “Nothing. We still plan on going forward and we are still planning to seek justice for David Heisler.”
“We believe that there is sufficient evidence to go forward with this case,” he added.
Kenneth and Debbie Heisler, David Heisler’s father and stepmother, said outside of the courtroom Friday that they’re happy to see the case move forward and they’re ready for the case to go to trial.
Freeman’s seven-day jury trial is set to begin Oct. 30.
Prosecutors theorize that Freeman along with co-defendants Kelley Marie Perry, 32, and Francis Lee McCard, 56, each played a role in the aggravated kidnapping of David Heisler resulting in his death.
Perry and McCard are facing charges filed by the state in separate actions currently on hold while federal investigators consider whether to bring federal indictments against them. Their next review hearing in the state actions is May 23.
After allegedly assaulting and abducting David Heisler, the defendants allegedly transported him from Utah to a desolate area in Arizona where Heisler was either killed or left to die in the extreme heat of the desert.
An extensive seven-and-a-half-week search for Heisler ensued before coming to an end Aug. 18, 2016, when his badly decomposed body was discovered by a geologist in the Mt. Trumbull region of the Arizona Strip.
Officials were unable to determine a cause or date of death due to Heisler’s body being so badly deteriorated.
Read more: Body of David Heisler found
Kenneth and Debbie Heisler said they changed their son’s date of death to June 30, 2016.
“We changed it to June 30 because the only date given on the death certificate was the date they found him,” Debbie Heisler said. “We feel that, physically, he couldn’t have walked more than three days in that desert heat, and so that was the date we gave him, that was our choice.”
“We have no idea what they did to him,” Debbie Heisler said of the three suspects accused of her stepson’s death. “We’ll never know that unless they tell.”
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