Friday, April 18, 2014

MR. WOOD'S CONFESSION

Contained in a defense motion filed this week in Greene County Circuit Court, those three words confirm what almost everyone has long suspected: Craig Michael Wood told police he killed Hailey Owens.

At least that's the at-face-value interpretation of what Wood's attorney is saying, but this is the justice system, a world that often makes Alice's looking-glass land seem sane by comparison. Time is supple here; a seven-year sentence might mean four months or four years, but it almost never means seven years locked up. Language is simultaneously precise and cryptic; just because it's in a court document doesn't mean it ever happened.

This filing by Patrick Berrigan — an appointed lawyer who may be the best practicing death-penalty defender in Missouri — is a lot of boilerplate, but it's important groundwork. This one focuses specifically on getting anything Wood said to police kicked out of court, and there are interesting nuggets sprinkled between the standard legal citations:

•Wood "was suffering from fatigue, mental illness, drug withdrawal, intoxication, emotional turmoil and psychological instability" when he talked with Springfield police on the night of Feb. 18. Berrigan argues that anything Wood said was coerced by cops and "inherently unreliable."

•Wood "was not properly advised of his Miranda rights so that he understood them," Berrigan writes.

•Wood didn't want to talk and told police he wanted a lawyer, but the cops wouldn't stop asking him questions, Berrigan asserts.

•"Mr. Wood's confession was coerced from him by promises of leniency," and can't be used against him in court, Berrigan writes.

Now it gets weird. This case is just starting — Wood's preliminary hearing isn't until next week, when prosecutors will lay out just enough of their case to convince an associate judge that a crime probably happened, and that Wood probably did it. Only when that happens (and it's almost always a "when") will the state be obligated to share its evidence with the defense. There are thousands of pages that Berrigan hasn't seen. Right now he's flying without a good map of the terrain ahead. He may know some of what Wood said to police, but only some, and that's why he wants it all suppressed at next week's hearing, and at trial.

He almost certainly won't win, but he doesn't expect to. Once the associate judge orders the case to trial, a circuit judge will take over and Berrigan will file another motion to suppress. It's one of the slender reeds he has to work with as he defends Craig Wood — paint him as an exhausted, mentally ill, jagged, drunk, and unstable man who was conned by the cops. What he told them was "inherently unreliable," according to the motion.

That ignores the body in his basement. But that's a defense motion for another day.

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