An east Mesa man who could have spent 35 years to life in prison will walk free May 26 after a judge ruled his confession to digitally penetrating a 10-year-old girl was inadmissable at trial.
Under a plea deal, Judge David Talamante of Maricopa County Superior Court sentenced Siqunmanta Smith to 10 years probation and one year in jail with credit for 344 days already served.
Talamante ruled April 5 that Smith’s confession to Maricopa County sheriff ’s detectives was involuntary.
The Pinal County Attorney’s Office offered him the deal immediately after Talamante’s ruling and he pleaded guilty the next day, court records show.
"It’s hard to proceed without the admission of the defendant," said Chuck Teegarden, a spokesman for the Pinal County Attorney’s Office.
The Maricopa County Sheriff ’s Office, Talamante and defense attorney Sandra K. Hamilton all declined comment.
A transcript of an April 4 hearing shows Hamilton argued that Smith’s confession was coerced because he was under the influence of drugs, the interrogation was long and in a cold room, and the detective told him he wasn’t going to leave until he believed Smith’s statements.
"So he’s basically intimating to Mr. Smith that they can stay in that room forever," Hamilton said at the hearing.
That is "absolutely coercive" because it is a threat, said defense attorney Larry Debus, who is not associated with the case.
Debus is an attorney with 30 years’ experience and a former Phoenix police officer who took part in the interrogation of Ernesto Miranda, namesake of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires police to inform suspects of their basic constitutional rights.
Police don’t have to provide a comfortable room for the interrogation and they can lie to and trick suspects, Debus said. But a confession is considered involuntary if the suspect is threatened or given promises in exchange for the confession.
Smith, 26, was arrested May 26, 2004, after two girls, ages 8 and 10, reported to school officials that he molested them.
A videotape of the interrogation shows that for the first two hours Smith denied the allegations to detectives and during prayers he said aloud when left alone.
Up to that point detective Rodrigo Rojas repeatedly told him to tell the truth, "make things right" and be honest with himself.
"If it takes five hours, four hours, six hours until I find the truth, until I’m convinced that you’re telling me the truth, then we’ll stay all that length of time here," Rojas said.
Rojas made a similar statement about 10 minutes later. But by that time, Smith had already confessed that he touched a girl inappropriately. He broke out into a wail when he confessed to the digital penetration. He said he did it to see if the girl had been having sex.
"It was not sexual," he said.