A Howard County judge has ruled that police did not violate the rights of a teenager when they questioned him about the rape of a woman on a field between Wilde Lake middle and high schools, a sexual assault for which he was later convicted.
Unless an appeals court overturns the ruling by Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure, the conviction and 12-year prison term for Dedrick Tyrone Wilkerson of Columbia will remain in place.
"It's good news for the victim," said Deputy State's Attorney Mary Murphy.
Wilkerson had contended that police did not properly give him Miranda warnings, the familiar phrases that advise people that they may remain silent and have an attorney.
But in an unusual decision in July, the state's highest court neither affirmed nor overturned the second-degree rape verdict in the 2008 trial. Instead, it ordered Leasure to determine what took place when Wilkerson, then 17, was read his rights.
Mary Pizzo, an assistant public defender, declined to comment on Leasure's decision or to say whether an appeal will be considered.
At issue was whether Wilkerson's second statement to police was improperly obtained. The Court of Appeals judges said they did not know if detectives purposely used a banned two-step tactic when questioning Wilkerson in December 2007 about the reported sexual assault on Oct. 18, 2007, of a 23-year-old woman.
The two-step approach was prohibited in 2004 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices said it enabled police to skip Miranda warnings before questioning people. Then — typically after a confession — police issued the advisements and had suspects repeat confessions.
After holding another hearing in October, Leasure ruled Wednesday that police did not employ the prohibited technique. They began to ask Wilkerson about his whereabouts the night of the assault before reading him his rights. A delay of about 21/2 minutes in giving Wilkerson his Miranda warnings was caused by one of the investigators getting her things together, but during that time they asked Wilkerson nothing that might elicit a confession, the judge ruled.
Had the judge ruled in favor of the defense, Wilkerson would have been entitled to a new trial; prosecutors, already unable to use his first statements to police, would have lost the second statements.
The Columbia teenager did not confess at any time. He initially told police that because he wore an ankle monitor in an unrelated case, he would not have been allowed out. After he was read his Miranda rights, detectives told him a security video captured him with the woman at an ATM. Then he told them he had no recollection of being out that night or knowing the woman, according to the Court of Appeals ruling.
Before the trial, Wilkerson's lawyer maintained that both statements should be suppressed, the first because he had not yet been advised and the second because it was "tainted" by the first.
Leasure did not allow prosecutors to use the first statement during the trial. Prosecutors used the second at his trial to undercut Wilkerson's credibility, when his defense was that he arranged to get drugs for the woman in exchange for sex. Although the first-rung appeals court, the Court of Special Appeals, upheld the conviction, the top court ordered another hearing because judges couldn't tell whether the defense was referring to the banned two-step tactic or improper delays by using the word "tainted."
The case, with Leasure's opinion, will go back to the Court of Special Appeals for review.