An accused killer's statements that were made under intense police questioning even as he repeatedly invoked his Constitutional right to speak to a lawyer can be used at his murder trial in St. James Parish this fall, a state judge has ruled.
Judge Alvin Turner Jr. agreed with prosecutors that sheriff's investigators and the FBI properly questioned John D. Celestine Jr. Prosecutors argued that his case is analogous to a specific exception that California has applied to the U.S. Supreme Court's long-standing Miranda precedent tied to finding missing children.
CONVENT — It had been three days since 12-year-old Talaija Dorsey was reported missing on the morning of July 1, 2014.
Celestine, 47, faces a first-degree murder charge in the July 2014 slaying of Talaija Dorsey, the 12-year-old who was the daughter of his live-in fiancee. He is set for trial Oct. 15 in Convent.
Investigators had held out hope that Dorsey might still be alive for days after she was reported missing on July 1, 2014.
Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. found her badly decomposed body at the edge of a cane field off La. 3127 on July 6, 2014. Celestine was booked on the first-degree murder count several days later.
Tyler Cavalier, spokesman for District Attorney Ricky Babin, and Blaine Hebert, one of Celestine's defense attorneys, declined to comment on the judge's decision to allow prosecutors to use Celestine's statements at trial.
CONVENT — Standing to the side at the Dorsey family compound in St. James with as many as 15 people in the area, John D. Celestine Jr. had dro…
The Supreme Court's 1966 Miranda ruling led to standard statement every officer is supposed to make when a suspect is arrested that advises them of their rights, including to remain silent and have an attorney present.
Celestine's statement on the evening of July 2, 2014, came after his arrest on obstruction and false communication counts and after he had invoked his Miranda rights. Defense attorneys argued Celestine, who was shackled at his feet, was coerced during the 4½-hour interrogation and the statement should be thrown out.
But Turner, a judge in the 23rd Judicial District, wrote on Sept. 12 that "urgent circumstances" existed at the time.
Investigators believed Dorsey might still be alive then and could be rescued. That situation obviated the Miranda requirement that Celestine couldn't be questioned any further after he invoked his right to speak to an attorney, the judge wrote.
"The court agrees with the State that the circumstances of this case gave law enforcement the right to continue to question Mr. Celestine even after he invoked his right to an attorney," Turner wrote.
In the mid-1980s, the Supreme Court created an exception to Miranda for public safety, allowing statements at trial that police get from defendants in emergency situations, even though the defendants never received a Miranda warning.
California courts extended a similar exception to Miranda known as the "rescue doctrine" when authorities are trying to find missing children. That doctrine, which has not been applied by the Supreme Court nationwide, arose from a series of cases, including the infamous Polly Klaas slaying in 1993, prosecutors said.
Defense attorneys for Celestine argued that the rescue doctrine had never before been applied in Louisiana. Prosecutors in St. James had argued the doctrine is similar to the public safety exception.