A judge recently excluded as evidence admissions made by a juvenile suspect in the alleged kidnapping, robbery and attempted murder of a University of Georgia student nearly two years ago.
Judge H. Patrick Haggard ruled last month that the alleged admissions cannot be used as trial evidence because, among other reasons, the detective who conducted the interview of 16-year-old Christopher Akilnyay Burnett knew the suspect was a juvenile, but never asked Burnett if he wanted his father present during questioning. The juvenile suspect’s father was waiting in the precinct’s lobby at the time.
Also, the alleged admissions were made during a videotaped interview in which there were large gaps without audio.
Burnett’s co-defendant in the case is Termedrick Faust, a 33-year-old convicted felon.
According to Athens-Clarke County police, a 19-year-old UGA student was making deliveries for Papa John’s Pizza the night of Feb. 4, 2016, when Faust and Burnett allegedly forced the student into the trunk of his own car and drove him to Trail Creek Street, where they tried to kill him.
Police said when the suspects stopped the car, turned around in the front seat and unloaded their pistols into the trunk where the student was trapped by shooting through the back seat.
Though wounded, the student freed himself by using a trunk release mechanism. He was found by a woman who was driving through the area and called 911.
A day later, after learning Burnett might have been involved in the incident, police set up surveillance near the home of the teenage suspect’s girlfriend. They took Burnett into custody as he approached the home, according to court documents.
Police took Burnett to the east police precinct, where a detective questioned him for 106 minutes, according to court documents.
The detective who conducted the interview had never been trained for the interrogation of juvenile suspects, and he failed to inform Burnett that he had the right to have his parents or a guardian present during questioning, according to court documents.
During a pretrial hearing earlier this year, the detective testified he “was not concerned about Burnett’s age because they intended to charge him as an adult,” according to court documents.
The court documents note that while waiting in the police precinct lobby, Burnett’s father was informed by another detective that he would not be allowed to see his son because he had already confessed.
In March 2016, the case was presented by the Western District Attorney Office to a grand jury, which returned a 15-count indictment. Faust and Burnett were each charged with criminal attempt to commit murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, armed robbery, first-degree burglary, three counts of aggravated battery and six counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
During his questioning of the juvenile suspect, the detective “told Burnett he needed to be honest about what happened during the robbery,” according to court records. “At this point the video ceased recording audio.”
The detective testified the entire audio portion of the interview was intact the day after the interview when he listened to the original recording on the computer program used to make the audio/visual recordings,” according to court records.
The detective testified he made a single copy of the interview and the audio was working throughout the interview, but when he played that copy of the interview an unspecified number of months later the detective “realized that approximately 75 minutes of audio was missing,” according to court documents
During questioning, Burnett made statements that seemed to indicate he believed he would be allowed to go home after his interview. In his order suppressing Burnett’s statements, the judge stated that the detective may have led the suspect to think so.
Haggard concluded in his order, “By responding to defendant Burnett’s question about going home after the interrogation, the detective may have reinforced (Burnett’s) apparent and mistaken belief that, if he was charged with a crime it would only be as an adult.
“Therefore , under the totality of circumstances the State has failed to meet its burden of showing that defendant Burnett’s statement was given knowingly and voluntarily.”
Burnett has been held without bail at the Clarke County Jail since his arrest three years ago.
In June the prosecution filed a motion for Burnett and Faust to have separate trials. The judge had yet to rule on the motion as of Friday.
Trial dates also had not been set, but an attorney status conference is scheduled for Oct. 24 in Haggard’s courtroom.
Follow Criminal Justice reporter Joe Johnson at www.facebook.com/JoeJohnsonABH or www.twitter.com/JoeJohnsonABH.