Judge disallows main evidence in alleged theft
A local judge on Monday threw out the main evidence in a jewelry theft case, ruling that a police detective improperly enticed a suspect into confessing to the theft and turning over the alleged stolen jewelry.
The ruling came in a hearing to suppress the evidence gathered by police against Dayna Marie Hughes, who was arrested last spring and charged with theft.
Deputy District Attorney Lawson Hughes, after hearing District Court Judge J.E. DeVilbiss’ ruling, said he would decide by Nov. 20 whether he would pursue prosecution of the case or ask that the charges be dismissed.
According to police, Hughes stole three necklaces from the home of her employers, Terry and Roberta Turkat of Aspen, on Jan. 6 because she was angry over being fired and not being paid for housekeeping work.
When a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy contacted her about the necklaces in early February, she denied having them.
According to Pitkin County Detective Ron Ryan, when he talked with Hughes in March, she still denied knowing where the necklaces were.
But Ryan admitted saying during a telephone conversation that the necklaces had “great personal value” for Roberta Turkat and that Turkat had told him she would “consider” foregoing prosecution if the necklaces were returned.
When Hughes subsequently produced the jewelry and apparently admitted taking it, Ryan arrested her, and she was charged with felony-level theft.
Defense attorney Chip McCrory argued that Ryan, in mentioning that the jewelry’s owner would “consider” foregoing prosecution, was illegally making a promise in return for Hughes’ cooperation.
Ryan maintained that he had not meant to promise anything to Hughes, testifying at a hearing that he told her, “I can’t make any deals.”
The judge referred to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, in which the high court had ruled that a confession or the production of evidence “must not be extracted” by “any implied threats or promise, however slight.”
DeVilbiss said, “In applying that law to this case, I find that the statement [by Hughes] was involuntary and cannot be used. It’s clear to me that there was a promise made.”
The same, he said, applies to the jewelry, meaning it also cannot be used as evidence; Hughes returned the necklaces to police in early April.
Hughes is currently free on bond while awaiting a trial in early December, but Wills indicated at Monday’s hearing that the trial may not take place.
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