Retrial for N.J. Man|Who Killed His Parents

     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – New Jersey police violated the rights of a man who killed his parents and then went on a shopping spree, by secretly recording his confession to an uncle in a police interrogation room, the state supreme court ruled Monday.
     Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Lee Solomon found that Michael Maltese’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated when he was secretly taped admitting he had strangled and buried his parents with help from his girlfriend. Solomon found that Maltese’s admission of guilt was “tainted” and that his “Miranda rights were not scrupulously honored.”
     Maltese was sentenced to 64 years in state prison. His girlfriend pleaded guilty to being an accomplice and was sentenced to 10 years after testifying against him.
     Among the items Maltese bought with his mother’s credit card after he killed her was an engagement ring.
     The story below is taken from the state supreme court’s 36-page ruling.
     Maltese’s parents, Michael and Kathleen, went missing in October 2008. When his sister reported her parents were missing, South Brunswick police visited their home, where Maltese and his girlfriend also lived. They found shovels in the son’s car.
     Brought in for questioning, Maltese told police he hadn’t seen his parents for a week or more, during which time, he acknowledged, he’d used his mother’s bank card.
     Maltese was arrested for obstruction of justice and released the same day. In a polygraph test administered a week later, Maltese said again that he had no idea where his parents were, but the administrating officer said Maltese was lying.
     Maltese agreed to give a statement, but first he wanted to talk with his uncle. South Brunswick police Sgt. Paul Vallas called that a bad idea, but Maltese insisted, saying he considered his uncle “even better than a freaking attorney,” and Vallas complied.
     Vallas told Maltese the camera would be shut off during the conversation, but warned him the conversation with his uncle was not protected by attorney-client privilege. When the uncle arrived, Vallas told him that he suspected Maltese had killed his parents, and said the camera would remain on. The uncle agreed to help with the investigation.
     Maltese told his uncle that he knew where the bodies were buried and that another person was involved. Police then gave Maltese his Miranda warning a second time, after which he told police he had fought with his father and strangled both parents.
     He said his girlfriend, Nicole Taylor, helped him strip his parents’ bodies, put them in a bathtub filled with bleach, roll them into garbage bags and bury them in a shallow grave in Friendship Park.
     Maltese was charged with two counts of murder and with hindering the prosecution.
     Maltese’s taped admission to his uncle was suppressed at trail, but not the statement that followed the video. Maltese was convicted, and the state Appellate Division found his post-video statement to police was lawful, since he had been re-read his Miranda rights.
     The state supreme court disagreed.
     “The state has not met its burden to establish by clear and convincing evidence that normal police procedures would inevitably have led to discovery of the bodies,” Solomon wrote. “The record reveals that the victims’ bodies were discovered solely as a result of defendant’s statements made in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.”
     The supreme court noted that two police officers questioned Maltese separately, which may have given him the impression that official questioning was over when he admitted that he knew where the bodies were. “The statement to police was the ‘fruit’ of the unconstitutionally obtained statement to defendant’s uncle,” Solomon wrote.
     Another factor was that Maltese had been convicted of killing both parents. In the videotaped confession, he told his uncle he had killed both parents, but at trial he said he killed only his father, in self-defense, and that Taylor killed the mother. Because his initial statement to police – in which he admitted killing both parents – was such a substantial part of the case, Solomon wrote, Maltese’s trial testimony that he had killed only his father must be given more weight.
     The supreme court reversed the convictions of murder and hindering prosecution, but not those of tampering with a human body and theft, since Maltese’s admissions of burying his parents’ bodies and using his mother’s credit card were given before the videotaped confession, and Taylor confessed to the bank card purchases and disposal of the bodies.
     The conviction for hindering prosecution was left standing because Maltese’s statements not having seen his parents were proven false in court, when he admitted cleaning the bodies in the bathtub and burying them.
     The case goes back to trial court for retrial on the murder charges, where Maltese can be impeached for his conflicting on-the-record statements if he chooses to testify again.

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