Gang Member Accused of Murder Gets Evidence Suppressed

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — A jury will not hear about the jailhouse confession of a white supremacist gang member accused of intentionally running over and killing a black teen, after a judge ruled Thursday that a homicide detective had violated the gang member’s Miranda rights.

State prosecutor David Hannon said a convenience store surveillance camera shows Russell Courtier, 38, fighting with 19-year-old Larnell Bruce. Later, he said, the video shows Courtier charging Bruce twice in a Jeep owned by Courtier’s girlfriend, and hitting him the second time. Bruce died in hospital that night.

Courtier, a member of the white supremacist prison gang European Kindred, is charged with murder and hate crimes. His trial is scheduled for February, but his attorney Kevin Sali chalked up a major win on Thursday.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Jerry B. Hodson ruled inadmissible Courtier’s late-night confession and a phone call in which he told his mother: “They pretty much know. I talked to the detective, so … it’s all on video camera too.”

Courtier had told Det. Aaron Turnage that he wouldn’t talk without a lawyer.

“I respect that,” Turnage responded. He followed up by saying that Courtier would be charged with attempted murder. In the video of the interview, Courtier visibly straightens in his seat, apparently surprised at the charge.

“That’s why I want to hear your side of the story,” Turnage says.

Three hours later, just after 5 a.m., the detective approached Courtier in his jail cell to tell him Bruce’s condition had deteriorated. The hospital said he was likely to die, which meant a corresponding change in the charges against Courtier.

Turnage also discussed taking Courtier to a hospital. Courtier’s shoulder had been injured in his fight with Bruce. That’s apparently when Courtier changed his mind, deciding to talk to the detective without a lawyer present.

Back in the interrogation room, the detective turned on the video camera. He described Courtier’s change of mind and asked if Courtier agreed that the description was true. He did.

After Turnage read Courtier his Miranda rights a second time, Courtier confessed to running over Bruce and made additional incriminating statements on the phone with his mother.

Prosecutor Hannon told the judge that Courtier’s confession was intentional and strategic.

“He wants to give a self-serving account as to why he did not intend to kill Mr. Bruce,” Hannon said. “There is an objective desire to get in front of this and tell the detective this is not murder, and he wants to do that not because of the charge, but because it was caught on camera.”

After Hannon and Sali presented their arguments, the judge said the important thing was that Courtier had “definitely unequivocally evoked his right to counsel.”

He questioned the decision to interrogate Courtier in the early morning hours and said the “totality of the circumstances” showed that Courtier was under duress when he confessed.

“It’s obvious from the video that Mr. Courtier is tired,” Hodson said. “This is an individual who has either been awake or awakened at various times during the night and into the early morning. Here is somebody who’s been told that they are facing attempt murder charges at 2 a.m. Then they sit around for a couple of hours and are awakened at 5 a.m. and they are now told that the person is going to die, which raises the ante of charges that they are facing. And they are then invited to initiate conversation with law enforcement.”

Hodson said he did not think Turnage intended to coerce Courtier into making a confession, but that intent didn’t matter.

“Do I think he wanted to talk?” Hodson said. “Yes. Was it affected by the statements that had been made at 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., as well as the recitation of the status of the victim? Yes. The court of appeals has already told me that that is a violation and that what comes out of the person’s mouth then should be suppressed because there has been a violation of the Miranda.”

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