A Bit of the ol’ Third Degree

At 11:30 p.m. on September 1, 1993, Leif Taylor, 16, was asleep on the couch of the Long Beach, California, home that he shared with his mother. She was out for the evening and Taylor was alone when he was startled awake by four men with guns drawn and flashlights trained around the room.
 
The men were Long Beach police officers and they had reason to believe that Taylor was involved in a May 31, 1993, murder of 26-year-old William Shadden.
 
Shadden was riding his bike through a beachside area in Long Beach when two assailants, one tall and the other short, attempted to take it from him. Shadden resisted and the assailants fled. For some reason Shadden gave chase and one of the assailants shot Shadden twice, killing him.
 
After police entered his home, Taylor was permitted to get dressed. Then he was handcuffed and driven to the police station. He arrived at the station ten minutes later and was placed in an interrogation room, where he sat alone for about thirty minutes.
 
Two eyewitnesses had seen the crime, and after the murder was profiled on a local crimestoppers show, Ana Bonilla, an acquaintance of Taylor’s, contacted police. She told Detectives Craig Remine and William MacLyman that she and several of her friends were cruising around the area of the crime on the night in question and that Taylor and Victor Rodriguez entered the van in the vicinity of the crime scene, after which she heard someone say that a person either had been or would be killed; she also heard someone say something about urinating on his hands. She could not attribute these statements to a specific individual in the van.
 
Bonilla also told detectives that she had seen Taylor with a handgun in the past, but was unsure about when that was. Later she told police that it was Taylor who asked a friend to urinate on his hands in an effort to get rid of gunshot residue.
 
Another witness, Gerald Ofhgang, saw the taller boy, from 25 feet away while driving at night. Ofhgang had initially identified both boys as Hispanic. Ofhgang did identify the shorter boy from a photograph as Victor Rodriguez, but he couldn’t identify Taylor as the taller boy. Taylor is not Hispanic. In 1994 Rodriquez was convicted of robbery and the murder of William Shadden. As a 14-year-old he was sentenced to 10 years in state custody.
 
Based on the witness information, Remine and MacLyman, accompanied by at least two other officers, executed a search warrant on Taylor’s home and took him into custody.
 
While in police custody, at about 3:30 a.m., Taylor confessed to shooting Shadden.
 
On its face this appears to be an open-and-shut case against Taylor. But there is more to the story.
 
By the time Remine and MacLyman entered the interrogation room and began to question Taylor, it was past midnight. For the next three hours the detectives interrogated the teenager, who “was considerably younger and physically smaller” than they, according to a written opinion by a California appellate court. Taylor was given no food, offered no rest break, and “may or may not have been given any water.”
 
Neither Taylor’s mother nor an attorney was present to advise him during questioning. Taylor denied involvement in the crime for more than 21/2 before finally inculpating himself. At the detectives’ behest, he then recorded his confession and signed a waiver of his rights. Begun at 3:02 a.m. and completed at 3:13 a.m., the recording is just eleven minutes long; there is no record of the earlier 21/2 hours of questioning. This bothered the Ninth Circuit panel which heard the appeal.

This is so because Remine and MacLyman questioned Taylor without turning on the tape recorder eventually used to record his confession — or the hidden recording equipment installed in the interrogation room — until after he had inculpated himself. Remine took notes during the questioning but subsequently disposed of them. There is no videotape, so we cannot see whether Taylor was calm and cool or tearful and agitated; nor do we have the audio tape to listen to. Indeed, there is no contemporaneous record at all of what happened during most of the time that Taylor spent in the interrogation room with Remine and MacLyman.

Prior to his trial, Taylor sought to suppress the confession, claiming that it was coerced. He told a harrowing story, that if true, stands as an example of some pretty heavy-handed interrogation techniques, not to mention a clear violation of Taylor’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.
 
On the stand at the suppression hearing, Taylor recalled that he awoke to find a flashlight and a gun pointed at him, and his living room filled with men. As he was handcuffed and placed in a police car, he was not told why he was being arrested. Taylor asked the officer driving the car if he knew the reason for the arrest. The officer said Taylor would be told at the station. Taylor also asked the officer if he “could call…[his] mom when…[he] got there. [The officer]…said that she would be notified for…[him].”
 
When Remine and MacLyman came into the room, Taylor continued, they did not tell him immediately why he had been arrested, asserting instead that he knew why he was there. MacLyman, who Taylor described as “the bigger fellow,” wore a ring inscribed with the police code for murder — “187″ — which he thrust in Taylor’s face.
 
“‘Well, you know why you’re down here,’” Taylor testified that MacLyman said.
 
MacLyman then told Taylor he had been arrested in connection with Shadden’s killing.
 
Taylor testified that he repeatedly asked for a lawyer, but the detectives denied his requests.

Q:Did you ask to speak to anyone?
A: I asked to speak with my attorney. I told… [the detectives] I knew an attorney from the outs. I thought maybe I could call him to get some advice, and they told me no, it wouldn’t be possible.
Q: Did you ask to speak with anyone else?
A: I then asked, “Well, can I speak with my mother, can I call her?” And they told me, no.

Under California law, a minor subject to custodial interrogation invokes the Fifth Amendment by asking to see a parent. Upon such a request, before or during questioning, “the police must cease custodial interrogation immediately,” according to the common law.
 
Instead, according to Taylor, MacLyman drew long and short lines on a piece of paper, explaining to Taylor that he could go to jail for the rest of his life or just until he was twenty-five, depending on whether he cooperated with the detectives. MacLyman also reportedly said he knew Taylor didn’t kill Shadden deliberately but had done so unintentionally.
 
At the supression hearing Taylor gave a classic response about why a person would confess to a crime that (according to him) he did not commit:
 
“I am getting tired, so I just started agreeing with everything so I can get out and make a phone call, because I was thinking, you know, well I didn’t do it anyways, so why don’t I just try to get out of the room to get my phone call and just tell them what they want to hear,” he told the court.
 
“I was just tired, you know. I wanted to get out of that room, for one thing. I was thinking, you know, you know, I am just not knowing what was going on,” he continued. “I am thinking these guys are supposed to be the good guys. I was never involved in any serious crime, so if I just agree with them, get my phone call, I will get it straightened out, I will go home.”
 
Taylor also testified that when he was asked to sign the Miranda waiver form, he did so without reading it. He added that not only did he not read it, but that one of the detectives had his hand covering most of the text on the page.
 
MacLyman did not testify at the suppression hearing.
 
On the stand Remine testified to a story very different from Taylor’s, at times saying he could not remember specific key events in Taylor’s story.
 
A day after the suppression hearing, Remine testified at Taylor’s trial that he had thrown away his notes of the interrogation, and nothing remains to corroborate either side’s claims.
 
“Responding to our request for the tape-recording of Taylor’s confession, the state advised that all trial exhibits, including the tape, had been destroyed on June 16, 1999, and that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office does not possess any copies of the recording,” the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion reads.
 
Remine testified that Taylor had been advised of his Miranda rights immediately after Remine and MacLyman joined him in the interrogation room, and that he had waived his rights at that time by signing the advisement form.
 
Remine did confirm that MacLyman wore a “187? ring.
 
He denied or could not recall that Taylor appeared emotional during questioning, that Taylor asked to speak with his mother, that MacLyman thrust his “187? ring in Taylor’s face, and that MacLyman mapped lines representing potential sentences. Remine also denied that he told Taylor he knew Taylor hadn’t intended to kill the victim; he was never asked whether MacLyman made that statement.
 
When asked by defense counsel whether Taylor asked to speak with an attorney, Remine replied, “I don’t recall him making that statement.”
 
Another witness testified at the suppression hearing — attorney Arthur Close, who said he received a telephone call from Taylor shortly after he had given his confession.
 
According to the attorney’s testimony, Taylor told him that he had just confessed to murder, that he had requested his mother and Close more than once, that he had been prevented from making a phone call until after he confessed, that he had confessed falsely in order to gain permission to make that phone call, and that one of the two detectives questioning Taylor had thrust a “187? ring in his face, and had drawn a diagram to illustrate the alternatives facing Taylor depending on whether or not he cooperated by confessing.
 
The trial judge subsequently ruled in favor of the state and allowed the confession to be introduced at trial.

I am a fact finder first, and I have to decide and say who I believe. I conclude, in this case, that I clearly believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, Officer Remine and not the testimony of the defendant in this case. Not only because it is the defendant in this case, but for other reasons, which were the nature of the facts that were developed by both sides. Leading me, in addition, to my feelings about who I should believe and who I really do believe, but also, why I should believe as a secondary or perhaps a primary, to look at with that crediting Officer Remine’s testimony. It now sheds light upon the decision.
[Defense counsel] makes the best case, of course, it is made primarily by the testimony of a witness I do not credit in this case. I find there was no violation of Miranda, the Miranda rights were given ahead of time, when they have been given before incriminating statements were given. … I decline to suppress the statements that were given by the defendant to the officers in this case.

The tape of Taylor’s confession was played for the jury which subsequently convicted him of first-degree felony murder and second-degree robbery; he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The California Court of Appeal affirmed; the California Supreme Court denied his petition for review without comment or citation.
 
Eventually Taylor’s request for habeas relief found its way to the federal system, which tossed the confession and ordered the now 26-year-old prisoner freed or retried.
 
This time the prosecution was the one that faced the uphill battle.
 
The prosecution’s witness list included Rodriguez, an admitted gang member who refused to be sworn in as a witness; Ruben Lucero and Ana (Bonilla) Espinoza, who formerly had gang ties; Arnold Elliott, a sex offender; and Geofrey Leyva, who said he’s a paranoid schizophrenic.
 
It took an additional two trials to re-convict Taylor of the crime. The first jury deadlocked.
 
In the end, Taylor, who is described as a model prisoner and who still denies any involvement in the crime, was convicted and sentenced to a minimum 25-year term. The prosecution established a clear timeline of events despite the reluctant or intimidated witnesses.
 
“I do not have a shadow of a doubt that it was anyone other than than the defendant who shot, killed and murdered (the victim) in this case,” the judge said in sentencing him.
 
By the way, William Shadden’s family said that he paid $15 for the bicycle.