Judge rules parts of Sander interrogation are inadmissible in court
Key elements of the state’s arson case against former Trinity High School principal Tom Sander were suppressed during a pre-trial conference Tuesday at the Stark County Courthouse.
Southwest District Judge William Herauf ruled that hours of interrogation conducted March 4 and 5 following a March 3 fire that damaged much of the school are inadmissible.
The ruling carried the defense’s motion to suppress Sander’s confession, which attorneys Jackson Lofgren and Lloyd Suhr argued was made under coercion and without Sander being properly Mirandized by Dickinson Police detectives Kylan Klauzer and Terry Oestreich.
Sander was interviewed for about four hours the morning of March 3, immediately following the fire. He was also brought in on March 4 for three more hours of interrogation, after which he was arrested and held at the Southwest Multi-County Correction Center.
“At some point, the March 4 interview turned custodial,” Herauf said.
Herauf pointed to a part of the interrogation in which Sander put on his coat and started to leave the room. Klauzer stopped Sander, preventing him from leaving. At that point, Herauf ruled, Sander was in custody and should have been read his Miranda rights.
Another pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday. Sander is scheduled go to trial on felony charges of arson and endangerment by fire on July 23.
In his testimony, Klauzer said he had been observing Oestreich interview Sander on and off before joining the investigation, and that the failure to read Sander his Miranda rights was not deliberate but an oversight.
“I had believed that Detective Oestreich had addressed it prior to me being in the room,” he said.
It was not until the next day, after about an hour of further interrogation that Klauzer and Oestreich read Sander his Miranda rights.
When asked why he had Mirandized Sander on March 5, Oestreich said it was “because (Sander) was in custody at that time.”
Stark County state’s attorney Tom Henning, in his argument against suppressing Sander’s confession, said that he could not contest that a Miranda violation occurred during the interview on March 4.
“I would also represent to the court that that’s the extent of the violation at that time,” he added.
He argued that Sander was aware of his Miranda rights, even if they were not explicitly read, and had ample time between interviews to consider his options.
“He knows where he’s at, he knows why he’s there,” he said.
The interview on March 5, he said, should not be suppressed.
However, Suhr argued that it was not a separate interview because the hour-long March 5 interview was conducted in the same room, by the same personnel, and only at the request of detectives Oestreich and Klauzer after Sander had spent the night in jail. Rather, it was done to clarify information obtained during the contested March 4 interrogation.
“The state’s efforts to make these sound like two completely separate interrogations has to fail,” he said. “There is no question that the content of the March 5 interview overlaps directly with the content of the March 4 interview. It is the tail on the dog.”
Herauf ruled all information obtained after the first 1 hour, 55 minutes and 22 seconds of the March 4 interrogation inadmissible in court.
“I am not saying that these two officers who testified today went in with a preconceived plan of how they were going to intentionally get around Miranda,” he said.
But after the interrogation became custodial and Sander was not free to leave, Oestreich “should have known to give the Miranda, and it wasn’t done,” Herauf said.
Information from the prior interrogation can be used as evidence, however.
Herauf stressed that just because some parts of the case are suppressed, “it doesn’t mean that the case is over.”
During the pre-trial conference following the motion hearing, Sander’s defense lawyers argued that they still have not received all of the evidence they have requested, including a note from a juvenile who allegedly penned a confession to the crime. The second pre-trial hearing, scheduled for next week, is set to address this issue.