Friday, January 14, 2000

Teen's essay leads to murder charge




BY DAN HORN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Julius Evans was sent to a juvenile facility for robbery, his counselor told him he could shorten his stay if he wrote an essay about his criminal past. Instead, the essay prompt ed police to charge the Evanston teen-ager with murder.

        Mr. Evans' two-page statement is the focus of a groundbreaking debate over whether authorities violated his constitutional rights while trying to wrap up a puzzling homicide investigation.

        Defense attorneys want the essay thrown out of court because they say the counselor pressured the 15-year-old boy to write it and assured him it was essential to his release.

        Prosecutors argue the statement was voluntary and can be used against Mr. Evans at trial.

        At no time, both sides agree, did anyone at the facility read Mr. Evans the standard Miranda warning against self-incrimination.

        “The implications of this are large,” said Mr. Evans' lawyer, Timothy Cutcher. “There's never been a case like this in Hamilton County.”

        Although Common Pleas Judge David Davis ruled Thursday that prosecutors could use the statement, Mr. Cutcher is likely to appeal the decision.

        He said the case could set a precedent for the state — and possibly the nation — because it involves basic constitutional issues.

        Prosecutor Mike Allen agreed the issues are intriguing, but he said he's confident no one violated Mr. Evans' rights in order to obtain the essay.

        “It is an interesting issue,” Mr. Allen said. “But if you look at the facts, it was a freely given statement. It was clearly voluntary.”

        The case began on Christmas Eve 1998 when police say a group of teens ambushed and beat 48-year-old Robert Hicks as he walked along Fernside Avenue in Evanston. Mr. Hicks died from his injuries one month later.

        Although Mr. Evans was charged with assault in January 1999, the charge was dropped for lack of evidence.

        A few months later, Mr. Evans was arrested on an unrelated charge of robbery and sent to Hillcrest School, a juvenile detention facility.

        While there, a counselor gave him admissions forms and, later, asked him to write an essay about his prior offenses. Mr. Cutcher said his client was hesitant to write the essay but was repeatedly instructed to do so.

        “They told him if he didn't do this, "You won't get to go home,'” Mr. Cutcher said.

        In the essay, Mr. Evans mentions an incident similar to the Hicks case. “I said let's go get him, so we start running down the street after him,” he wrote. “Then we caught him and start beating him up.”

        Hillcrest officials gave the state ment to police, who then charged Mr. Evans with murder.

        Mr. Cutcher said Mr. Evans was not read his rights and was told the essay was for “purposes of treatment.”

        He argues that the Miranda warning, which instructs suspects they have a right to remain silent and to call an attorney, should have been given at the school.

        Courts previously have ruled that Miranda is required when a suspect is in custody and is being interrogated by law enforcement officers.

        Mr. Cutcher said his client was in custody because Hillcrest is a secure facility. He said the essay and the conduct of the counselor clearly riseto the level of interrogation.

        Even more compelling, Mr. Cutcher said, is Mr. Evans' decision to remain silent when police questioned him about the Hicks case months earlier.

        Only when the counselor told him the essay was required for “treatment purposes” did Mr. Evans relent, Mr. Cutcher said.

        Assistant Prosecutor Steve Tolbert told the judge the Miranda warning was not necessary because Mr. Evans was not in custody on the murder charge.

        He also argued that the counselor is not a law enforcement officer and therefore was not obligated to read Mr. Evans his Miranda rights.

        Judge Davis concluded the statement was voluntary because the consequences of not writing the essay were light. “No one questioned him or pressured him or interrogated him,” the judge said.

        The two sides will meet next week to discuss a trial date. Mr. Cutcher cannot appeal the judge's ruling until after the trial.

        If convicted, Mr. Evans faces 20 years to life in prison.

       



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