Oct. 8—A Huron man who was charged with first-degree murder for his alleged role in a fatal shooting that occurred in Mitchell is seeking to have evidence from his interrogation tossed due to not having a "full understanding" of his Miranda rights.
Attorneys representing Jose Carlos Morales-Acevedo, 28, are arguing his Spanish language interpreter made errors in translating Miranda rights to him prior to the interrogation process, which they claim led Morales-Acevedo to waive his Miranda rights without "fully understanding the legal ramifications of it."
However, Assistant Attorney General Katie Mallery, the state's prosecutor in the case, is pushing back on Morales-Acevedo's motion to suppress evidence from the interrogation, pointing to the conversation he held in English with a Mitchell Police Officer prior to the interrogation and the length of time he's resided in the United States. Past criminal records show Morales-Acevedo was in the U.S. as early as 2013.
Morales-Acevedo was charged with first- and second-degree murder for allegedly shooting a 38-year-old man to death on Jan. 10 in a downtown Mitchell apartment. He was indicted on Jan. 22 and pleaded not guilty to all charges he's facing in connection to the homicide.
An arrest affidavit alleges Morales-Acevedo and another suspect, Luis Javier Perez-Melendez, 28, of Huron, shot and killed Adalberto Ferrer-Machado by firing rounds in his head and torso inside his apartment. Authorities said the 38-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene when officers found Ferrer-Machado lying in the hallway of an apartment complex, located at 503 1/2 N. Main St., with multiple gunshot wounds. The affidavit also alleges the murder was "not a random act," as both suspects knew the victim, authorities say.
Initially, Morales-Acevedo denied being present when the murder occurred. However, he recanted his statement later on and admitted to "playing an active part in the homicide," according to court documents. Arnold also found blood on the shoes of Morales-Acevedo during the interrogation.
During the investigation, a witness told authorities that they watched Perez-Melendez and Morales-Acevedo enter the apartment complex, where the victim was shot and killed minutes later. Video footage that investigators gathered also showed two men closely matching the descriptions of both Perez-Melendez and Morales-Acevedo entering the apartment where the murder occurred moments later.
During Tuesday's hearing at the Davison County Public Safety Center, Mallery called on several detectives and law officers who handled the investigation into the murder of the late Ferrer-Machado to testify in front of Judge Chris Giles, helping provide extensive details into the events that led to the arrest of Morales-Acevedo.
Mitchell Police Officer William Lutjen said Morales-Acevedo was responding to his questions in plain English when the officer began investigating a report of a stolen car that was believed to have been used by the suspects involved in the homicide, which belonged to Morales-Acevedo.
"I used English when I asked him questions related to the vehicle," Lutjen said during his testimony.
As the investigation continued, Lutjen then transported Morales-Acevedo to the Department of Public Safety building to allow detectives to question him on the murder of Ferrer-Machado. According to the transcripts of the interview between authorities and Morales-Acevedo, an officer asked him if he had anything in his coat. Morales-Acevedo responded by saying, "No sir." In addition, the transcript shows the officer asked Morales-Acevedo to turn his pockets out, to which he responded, saying "I don't have any back pockets."
When Mitchell detective Peter Arnold began speaking with Morales-Acevedo, he said the suspect was clearly speaking with him in English. As the interrogation progressed, Morales-Acevedo suddenly didn't clearly understand and respond to Arnold's questions, including the reading of his Miranda rights.
Arnold called a translator to interpret his Miranda rights in Spanish. When Arnold asked Morales-Acevedo if he would waive his Miranda rights to talk with him on matters relating to the murder investigation, he replied, "Who is miranda?" However, Morales-Acevedo eventually waives his Miranda rights and signs the waiver card to talk with detective Arnold and Brian Larson, a detective with the Department of Criminal Investigation.
Morales-Acevedo's attorneys, Richard Rylance and M. Lorena Tamayo, are arguing to suppress the statements made by Morales-Acevedo during the interrogation due to the claim the interpreter made translation errors and "did not properly advise him of his right to have an attorney," to name a few of the issues.
In Rylance and Tamayo's document supporting the motion to suppress the statements made by Morales-Acevedo, they state "the translator improperly utilizes the word 'leave' instead of the word 'waive' when referring to the defendant's rights. Plus, the translator omitted in his translation to the officer that Jose stated 'I still don't understand' in Spanish."
In addition, Rylance and Tamayo's document states the "translator erroneously told the defendant that if he would give up his Miranda rights so that they could ask him questions, they would take him (Morales-Acevedo) out of the case," which they allege was "not what the police officer was trying to explain," claiming it "compromise the entire interrogation."
State prosecutors are rejecting the argument that Morales-Acevedo didn't clearly understand his decision to waive his Miranda rights, claiming they were clearly stated to him multiple times in both Spanish and English. In the state prosecutor's documents requesting to deny the suppression motion, it points to the fact Morales-Acevedo is a truck driver for a company that requires a Commercial Drivers License and his past criminal charges in America that date back to 2013.
According to the transcript of the interrogation, Morales-Acevedo tells detectives he's had "12 cases and won them all," which state prosecutors say is proof he's "been through this legal process and understands his rights."
Judge Giles will make a determination on the motion to suppress the interrogation statements of Morales-Acevedo in the near future. Morales-Acevedo could face a maximum sentence of the death penalty, if found guilty on all charges. Perez-Melendez also pleaded not guilty to all charges in connection to the homicide.