Archive for April 17th, 2013

17
Apr
13

inadmissible

Noah Crooks 3

It is a measure of Bill Kutmus’ quality as an attorney that he wins motions that he does not expect to win.

The latest example concerns certain statements that Noah Crooks made to the dispatcher and police following the murder of his mother. Like a lot of kids and parents following parricide incidents, Noah and his dad assumed that the police and prosecutors are “the good guys” and will do the right thing with whatever is said. First mistake.

The police are never our friends.

Back in March 2012, Noah allegedly admitted to killing his mother to a Mitchell County dispatcher, a sheriff’s deputy, and agents with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. But on April 1st in a pre-trial hearing, Bill Kutmus questioned the admissibility of that evidence at his trial. Law enforcement failed to get written permission from Crooks’ father, William, to question his son.

Noah, age 14, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of his mother, Gretchen, 37, on March 24, 2012, at the family’s rural Osage home.

About 7:30 p.m. that night, Noah called 911 and told the dispatcher he had killed his mother. The dispatcher called Deputy Jeff Huftalin and Mitchell County Sheriff Curt Younker, who has since retired.

Huftalin arrived first and took Noah into custody. Noah was handcuffed and placed in the front seat of the deputy’s patrol vehicle. His father, William Crooks, wasn’t at home at the time of the murder, but had been away for just minutes at a going-away party for family friends.

He arrived at home some time later and spoke with the sheriff who told him his wife was dead and Noah had been taken to the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office.

Younker asked for Crooks’ permission to speak with his son.

“He said, ‘You do what you have to do,’ ” Younker testified at the April 1st hearing. Younker said he took that as a yes.

When asked why he didn’t get written permission from Noah’s father, Younker said, “It simply didn’t occur to me.”

Huftalin read Noah his Miranda rights and obtained a copy of the Miranda form for suspects under the age of 16. Before he questioned Noah at the sheriff’s office, he went through the form with him and had him sign it. But Huftalin missed a section of the form which says written permission from a parent is required before questioning a juvenile.

Huftalin said this was his first murder investigation.

Kutmus said his client’s statements make it clear he didn’t want to talk with law enforcement. Reading from the transcript of the 911 tape, “OK. This is Noah. OK. I don’t want you to contact the news or do anything like that. I have no idea why I did it. I feel crazy but I know I’m not,” Kutmus read.

The state argued that officers “substantially complied” with the requirements of the statute by obtaining oral permission from Crooks’ father.

Kutmus also said Noah asked Huftalin for an attorney. “I need a counselor or something. I just need to get it out.” Kutmus said Noah was using the word “counselor” to mean attorney, not a psychological counselor. “Assuming that he’s asking for a lawyer, everything that he says after that is inadmissable,” Kutmus said.

“I interpreted that to mean that he wanted to get something off his chest,” Huftalin said.

Kutmus responded, “It’s not about what you thought. It’s about what he thought.”

This gambit apparently worked. On April 15th, District Judge James Drew ruled that while the statements made to the dispatcher are admissible, the rest of the evidence is inadmissible at trial because law enforcement failed to get written permission from Crooks’ father. According to the judge’s ruling, those statements were made prior to Crooks being taken into custody and were voluntary.

The admissibility of statements made by Crooks during a conversation with his father, which was recorded by law enforcement at the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Department, will be made at a later date.

Statements made by Crooks as he was being transported to the sheriff’s department for questioning are also inadmissable because Crooks can’t waive his right to legal counsel.

Noah’s trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday, April 30, in Wright County District Court in Clarion.

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This post relies on large amounts of court reporting by Peggy Senzarino of the Mason City Globe Gazette.