Consequently, the court finds that the confession Dassey gave to the police on March 1, 2006 was so clearly involuntary in a constitutional sense that the court of appeals’ decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.
The court does not reach this conclusion lightly. The present decision is made in full appreciation of the limited nature of the habeas remedy under AEDPA and mindful of the principles of comity and federalism that restrain federal intervention in this arena.
However, the high standard imposed by AEDPA is not a complete bar to relief. Cockrell, 537 U.S. at 340. While the circumstances for relief may be rare, even extraordinary, it is the conclusion of the court that this case represents the sort of “extreme malfunction in the state criminal justice system” that federal habeas corpus relief exists to correct.
Imprisoned since 2000, Arturo Reyes and Gabriel Solache are serving life sentences stemming from a bizarre case in which a couple was murdered and their two young children abducted. Reyes and Solache were arrested when they brought the children to a police station after learning their identities from a news broadcast. They were held for two days, one arm handcuffed to a wall.
Their housemate, Adriana Mejia, pled guilty to the crimes (she’s also serving a life sentence) after the victims’ blood was found on her shoes, and under questioning from Guevara she implicated Reyes, who then named Solache as an accomplice.
No physical evidence linked Reyes or Solache to the crime.
Both Reyes and Solache testified at their trial that they confessed only after sustained beatings by Guevara. Reyes said the detective would slap him every time he didn’t like an answer Reyes gave; Solache said beatings to his head caused him to lose his hearing in one ear. In a pretrial hearing, Mejia testified that she saw Guevara slap Solache; Guevara denied any physical abuse took place.
In 2003 the two men filed post-conviction petitions which were dismissed by the trial judge, but in 2006 an appeals court reversed that decision, ruling that new evidence of a pattern of abuse by Guevera added credibility to their claims of coerced confessions.
An amended petition filed in 2008 on Solache’s behalf by Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions laid out dozens of cases of misconduct by Guevara that had come to light in the intervening years, including a distinct pattern of manipulating witnesses and coercing confessions to win convictions in murder cases where no physical evidence existed. The state moved to dismiss the petition, and another round of legal wrangling took place.
Finally in February 2013 an evidentiary hearing began (it stretched over two years) on their petition for post-conviction relief. The defense presented witnesses and testimony from other cases spelling out 20 instances of Guevara’s misconduct, including the testimony of a retired detective who said he told his supervisor that Guevara had manipulated a photo array. A murder charge in that case was subsequently dropped.
Guevara was called to the stand but refused to testify, taking the Fifth Amendment dozens of times. That’s a problem, as Circuit Court Judge James M. Obbish noted in his June 29 ruling, since it left every credible allegation against him unrebutted.
Shortly after the 2006 shotgun slayings of Wayne and Sharmon Stock in their rural Cass County farmhouse, investigating officers zeroed in on Matthew Livers and his cousin Nicholas Sampson as prime suspects.
Livers, nephew of the murder victims, was 28 years old at the time of the murder and had no criminal record or exposure to the criminal justice system. Livers had been a special education student, and his IQ test score of 63 placed “his intellectual functioning below 99 percent of the population at large,” according to the suit.
Separated from his family and without a lawyer present, Livers was interrogated for 11 hours by investigators from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and Nebraska State Patrol. Livers repeatedly denied any involvement in the crime. But after several hours of increasingly harsh and threatening questioning and being told his refusal to confess would result in the death penalty, Livers believed telling the officers what they wanted to hear would allow him to go home, and he finally implicated himself and Sampson in the murders. The following day, he recanted the confession.
Initially, no evidence linked either Livers or Sampson to the murders. Several weeks into the investigation, lawsuit Defendant David Kofoed, then head of the Douglas County (Neb.) Sheriff’s Crime Scene Investigation Unit claimed to have found victim Wayne Stock’s blood in a car, linked to Livers and Sampson, that investigators theorized was used in the murders.
At the murder scene, investigators found a marijuana pipe, a ring with an inscription and a flashlight that did not belong to the Stocks and likely had been left behind by the killers. After Livers’ confession, a Douglas County forensic investigator, who is not a defendant in the suit, was able to trace the ring to a Wisconsin man, who had left the ring in the glovebox of his truck. His truck had been stolen by Wisconsin residents Gregory Fester and Jessica Reid, who were in a Wisconsin jail in connection with that theft. They later confessed to killing the Stocks, and their confessions were supported by DNA evidence on the ring and pipe and by blood found on their clothing.
Officers in Nebraska attempted to cover their tracks by fabricating additional evidence against Livers and Sampson. They attempted to coerce and manipulate Reid, Fester and at least one other witness into implicating Livers and Sampson as co-conspirators in the murders. They continued to claim that the blood evidence supposedly found by Kofoed supported their case against Livers and Sampson.fter more than seven months in jail, the Cass County Attorney dismissed the charge and gave Livers his freedom. Dismissal of the case followed a State expert’s finding that psychological coercion was used to obtain the false confession and that Livers was especially vulnerable to heavy-handed tactics.
After the charges were dismissed against Livers and Sampson, David Kofoed was charged with evidence tampering in connection with the bogus finding of blood in the suspect vehicle. Kofoed was convicted and sentenced to prison. He was released after serving 18 months. Kofoed’s conviction was been affirmed by the Nebraska Supreme Court.
Livers settled his civil suit against the Nebraska State Patrol investigators and Cass County, Nebraska, Sheriff’s Deputies for coercing him to confess falsely to the brutal murder of his aunt and uncle and fabricating evidence to make the false charges stick. Under the settlement, Livers received a total of $1.65 million as compensation for his seven months of pretrial incarceration while the false charges were pending.
Dylan Yang was a 15 year old Wausau High School student when he and some friends got into an argument on Facebook. Sometime after this argument, a vehicle drove up to the front of Dylan’s home, driven by a 19 year old girl. Dylan and two of his friends were standing on the front porch of their home and one of the boys in the car, a 13 year old named Isiah Powell, shot at them with a BB gun, which was later recovered at the scene. In addition to the driver and Powell, there were six other people in the car. Some of the occupants of the car were carrying knives.
When the occupants of the car began fighting with one of Dylan’s friends, Dylan ran into the house and got a kitchen knife. When he returned to see where his friends were, he saw his friend wrestling with the shooter, 13 year old Isiah Powell, on the pavement. Dylan then stabbed Powell twice in the back with the kitchen knife, Powell released Dylan’s friend, and all three boys ran into the house. The driver of the car drove Powell to the local hospital where he would later die of his wounds.
Dylan turned himself into authorities after the incident and was interrogated without an adult or attorney present.
At trial, the defense argued Yang stabbed Powell to protect his own life and the life of his friend because he believed Powell’s gun was real. The prosecution argued Yang stabbed Powell because he felt he was disrespecting him.
In March 2016, Dylan was convicted of first degree reckless homicide.