A year ago, a Metairie teenager allegedly confessed that he was responsible for the deaths of his father and 2-year-old half-sister, who were found shot to death in their Covington home on a frigid January morning.
Jacob Eli Middleton Jr., then 17, was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder.
But in a hearing Friday, an attorney for Middleton asked Judge William Burris to suppress Middleton’s confession as well as some other evidence gathered in the investigation conducted by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Bruce Dearing, an assistant district attorney in 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery’s office, called three detectives to the stand to testify about the investigation into the deaths of Jacob Middleton Sr., 35, and Makayla Christine Middleton, including a nearly 24-hour interrogation of the younger Middleton.
The defendant was not initially a suspect, the detectives testified, but after he and his mother, Alina Fernandez, were questioned in their Metairie home, they were asked to come to St. Tammany to be interviewed further. They agreed, Detective Keith Canazaro testified, but Fernandez asked for deputies to give them a ride because they were too distraught to drive.
The detectives said the youth was read his rights and waived them, never once saying he had changed his mind or that he wanted a lawyer and refusing any offer of food.
What followed, according to testimony, was nearly 24 hours of interrogation, during which deputies said young Middleton’s story kept changing, including a claim that an acquaintance had planned a home invasion to steal weapons from Jacob Middleton Sr.
Attorney Ravi Shah asked whether detectives were feeding Middleton false information as an interrogation technique and suggested that the lengthy interrogation took a toll on his client.
Dearing asked Detective Michael Ripoll, who was the lead investigator, whether Middleton’s stories were consistent. “They changed consistently,” Ripoll said.
The first three hours of Middleton’s interrogation were not recorded, supposedly because of a technical problem — a gap in the record that Shah questioned detectives about extensively.
The youth also went with detectives to locate a trailer where another suspect allegedly was staying and to find where Middleton allegedly told detectives that the murder weapon had been discarded.
The weapon was never found, detectives said.
It was during the search for the gun that Middleton allegedly told Detective Matthew Vasquez that he had killed his family members.
Vasquez testified that it was bitterly cold that day, and about seven deputies were searching two wooded lots for the gun while the defendant sat in the back seat of the car. He said he got in next to Middleton to ask if the gun was really there or if the effort was useless.
“We talked for a few minutes, and he said, ‘I did something bad,’ ” Vasquez testified. When Middleton began to admit to the shootings, the detective said, he decided to take him back to the interrogation room where he could be taped.
Vasquez said the youth said nothing more to him on the ride back but that Middleton asked for him to take his statement when they returned.
Shah asked sarcastically what techniques Vasquez had used to get Middleton to confess when others had failed after hours of interrogation.
“I just talked to him like a regular person,” Vasquez said. “You could tell something was on his mind. ... I’m not sure why he felt more inclined to open up.”
Shah was combative with Vasquez, asking whether he had told the defendant that Vasquez was a victim of child abuse — a claim that has been made of Middleton and his father — and had suggested to him that he could blame that for his actions.
Vasquez denied doing so.
Middleton appeared in court in shackles and prisoner’s stripes, his hair close-cropped and his demeanor quiet. Several family members, including his mother, were in the courtroom, but he seemingly did not make any effort to look at them.
The defense dropped its motion to suppress evidence based on any claim of constitutional violations but reserved the right to challenge exhibits on other grounds in the future.
The judge said he would take the motion to suppress Middleton’s statement under advisement.
Shah also asked the court to reduce Middleton’s $1.5 million bail to $250,000, saying the youth had never been in trouble with the law before. Burris denied the request.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.