Interrogation Tactics Faulted In Pr. George's

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 22, 2005

Nearly five hours after Prince George's County police arrested her on suspicion of fatally shooting her on-again, off-again boyfriend in her Capitol Heights home last January, Abere Karibi-Ikiriko became emotional in a small interview room at police headquarters.

She sobbed and screamed as a police video camera recorded her, according to a description by a defense attorney who later saw the videotape. She began to collapse and was held up by a county homicide detective. Karibi-Ikiriko asked the detective: How could you live if you knew you killed somebody you loved?

The Prince George's jury that decided Karibi-Ikiriko's fate this month never saw any of it.

A judge threw out the entire interview because he determined that Cpl. Bernard Nelson Jr., an 11-year veteran of the homicide unit, violated a bedrock principle of the criminal justice system: a suspect's right to an attorney.

It was one of four videotaped statements that circuit or appellate judges have suppressed since June because they determined the Prince George's police obtained them improperly.

And it was the second time in four years that a judge has tossed out a defendant's statement because Nelson disregarded a suspect's request for an attorney. During that time, Nelson also obtained a confession from a teenager in a murder case that turned out to be false.

After viewing a portion of the videotape in Karibi-Ikiriko's case, Circuit Court Judge Richard H. Sothoron Jr. ruled that none of Karibi-Ikiriko's statements during her 4 1/2 hours in an interview room were admissible because she'd asked for an attorney four times, which made the statements involuntary.

Karibi-Ikiriko's attorney Debra A. Saltz, describing the tape in court, said she counted six requests for an attorney in five minutes.

According to Saltz, Nelson told Karibi-Ikiriko she could change her mind and talk to him after the first two times Karibi-Ikiriko asked for an attorney. Karibi-Ikiriko again asked for a lawyer, adding, "You understand, right?"

On Aug. 8, the jury acquitted Karibi-Ikiriko, 27, of first-degree murder, which carries a possible sentence of life in prison, and convicted her of second-degree murder, which carries a possible maximum punishment of 30 years. She is to be sentenced Sept. 9.

In a previous case, in July 2001, Nelson testified in a court hearing that he ignored repeated requests by defendant Michael Eugene Shipman to speak to a lawyer, continuing to question him in the hopes of obtaining a confession.

A Circuit Court judge ruled that the prosecution could use the statements Nelson obtained only if Shipman testified at his trial. He did not testify, and the trial ended in a hung jury. Shipman later pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company