A Suffolk Superior Court judge will have to hold a new hearing on whether Randall Tremblay voluntarily implicated himself in his girlfriend's 2014 beating murder in their River Street apartment.
As the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled last year, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that Randall Tremblay was not too drunk during a recorded interview at police headquarters to incriminate himself in Stephanie McMahon's murder in their River Street apartment on Nov. 16, 2014.
But the court ordered Judge Kenneth Salinger to hold a new hearing on whether Tremblay made those statements voluntarily and whether there might have been something they missed on his mental state when a homicide detective interviewed him twice - the second time after a detective realized the recording system had been turned on in another interview room, not the one in which he was talking to Tremblay.
The state's highest court made the determination after watching a recording of that second interview.
As the judge noted, at the beginning of the audio-video recording, the defendant was a bit unsteady on his feet when he was led into the interrogation room; this unsteadiness dissipated quickly, however. For example, the defendant was able to stand and pantomime hitting the victim repeatedly, without any instability or stumbling. He also spoke coherently; as he entered the interrogation room he was clearly arguing with the officers about the warrant for his arrest, and was insisting that it was a "straight warrant" rather than a "default." ...
Throughout the recording, the defendant was very responsive to questions. He was able to recall details of the incident, such as times, locations, and the specific bus he took, and even corrected a few of Stratton's statements. His account of hitting the victim repeatedly in the head was consistent with his statements during the first interview, and he made some of the same incriminating statements.
But the justices said that while they have the right to do independent "fact finding" on "documentary" evidence, such as a recording, they had to grant "deference" to Suffolk Superior Court Judge Kenneth Salinger on the testimony that led up to his ruling to toss the evidence because he felt Tremblay was too drunk to be fairly interviewed.
The justices said they were not in the courtroom themselves to size up the people testifying, to know how their ruling on the recording might have changed the judge's ruling, or whether he heard or saw things during his hearings that would have convinced them that he was still right to bar the use of the interviews as evidence because of Tremblay's mental status.
The justices said this was compounded by what they said was Salinger's failure to adequately press prosecutors and police to provide evidence that Tremblay voluntarily made the apparent confessional statements during the recorded interview.
As one example, they said Salinger should have pressed officers on their professional opinion of Tremblay's mental state during the first interview:
Here, the portion of the officers' testimony that was omitted from the judge's findings was the only evidence directly addressing the defendant's condition during the unrecorded first interview. As such, it warranted the judge's attention. While the credibility of this testimony was for the motion judge alone to assess, the testimony should have been addressed, and not ignored. This omission unnecessarily impairs our ability on the entire evidence to evaluate whether the judge's findings adequately support his ultimate conclusions of law.
And because of that, they said they had no choice but to send the whole case back to Salinger for a new hearing at which to press for additional testimony on whether Tremblay voluntarily made incriminating statements - and whether he was even in a mental state to do so.
The SJC did give prosecutors a victory on the matter of testing Tremblay's clothes for blood after he was arrested. Salinger had also thrown out evidence from that testing, but the SJC said that police had his clothes legally - because he was initially arrested for failing to register as a sex offender - and that once the police have clothes legally, testing for blood is no different than dusting for fingerprints.