Facing death penalty trial Jan. 28, Stephen Marc Stone asks court to throw out alleged confession
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Lawyers for Stephen Marc Stone, who is set to go on trial for capital murder Jan. 28, are asking that an alleged confession he made to police be thrown out because he didn’t understand his Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent.
Stone is charged with killing his wife and 7-year-old son at their South Huntsville home in February 2013 and could face the death penalty if convicted.
His lawyers Brian Clark and Larry Marsili argued in a Wednesday court filing, “… the Defendant’s statement was the direct result of improper influences made to the Defendant by the investigator; as well as the Defendant(s) inability to understand his rights under Miranda v. Arizona … and as such, the same was obtained in violation of the Defendant’s Due Process Rights.”
According to the account provided by investigators at Stone’s preliminary hearing in 2013, he left his two daughters unharmed after strangling his wife Krista and son Zachary. Stone then drove his daughters from Huntsville to his parents’ home in Leeds. After dropping them off, according to hearing testimony, Stone went to the Leeds Police Department and advised officers to check his residence.
He later confessed to the killings, police said.
In Wednesday’s motion to suppress, Stone’s lawyers argue he was “not provided his rights” for six hours, until he was questioned by Huntsville Police Department investigator Michael Leftwich.
The defense says Stone asked Leftwich to repeat his Miranda rights, after Leftwich first verbally presented them.
The defense claims Stone questioned the use of the word, “counsel” and assumed “that meant was entitled to pastoral instead of legal counsel.”
The defense filing argues:
“The Defendant did not understand the terms contained in his Miranda rights that were verbally stated to him twice. The officers never clarified that he was not entitled to pastoral counsel. At the end of the interrogation, Investigator Leftwich handed the defendant a copy of the warrant for the search of his home and the defendant thought he was required to sign. The defendant stated ‘usually…when people hand me a piece of paper I’m supposed to sign it.’”
Leftwich then asked Stone if he wanted to make a statement. The defense contends Stone didn’t understand his rights, that he thought counsel meant a pastor not a lawyer and that he was under the impression that he was supposed to sign documents put in front of him.
“Based upon the foregoing improper influences of the investigator and the defendant’s inability to understand his rights, the Defendant waived his rights, and allegedly made incriminating statements to law enforcement officers. The statements allegedly made by the Defendant herein were involuntarily made.”
Stone is set to be in court Thursday for an arraignment and for the two sides to discuss scheduling of the upcoming trial and there are details to work out before his trial begins.
The state is seeking the death penalty.
“We are looking at the specific facts of the case and one of the factors is was it especially heinous, atrocious and cruel? And that’s, for me that’s the number one factor I’m looking at, is the brutality of what happened,” said Tim Gann, chief trial attorney for the Madison County District Attorney’s Office.
A death penalty case means a larger jury pool. The defense and prosecution have worked together on a juror questionnaire, around 100 questions, with a focus on attitudes about the death penalty.
The two sides and the court all have to agree on the questionnaire.
The defense is planning to argue Stone was insane at the time of the killings.
Prosecutors say they expect a jury could be seated by late Wednesday, Jan. 30, with the actual trial starting the next day.
If Stone is found guilty the case moves into the penalty phase, essentially a mini-trial, where the jury will be asked to decide if he should get a death sentence.
Madison County Circuit Judge Donna Pate is presiding over the trial.