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State v. Cote

Supreme Court of Maine

April 25, 2017


          Argued: February 6, 2017

          Verne E. Paradie, Jr., Esq. (orally), Paradie, Sherman, Walker & Worden, Lewiston, for appellant Jason C. Cote

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine


          JABAR, J.

         [¶1] Jason C. Cote appeals from a judgment of conviction entered by the trial court (Somerset County, Horton, J.) after a jury found him guilty of one count of murder, 17-A M.R.S. § 201(1)(A) (2016). Cote argues that (1) the motion court erred in denying his motion to suppress in part; (2) the States attorney committed prosecutorial misconduct when she referenced Cote stomping on the victims head in both her opening statement and closing argument; and (3) there was insufficient evidence in the record upon which the jury could find him guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The jury rationally could have found the following facts based on the evidence, which we view in the light most favorable to the jurys verdict. See State v. Pratt, 2015 ME 167, ¶ 2, 130 A.3d 381. At the time of his death, the victim was a drug dealer and the defendant, Jason Cote, was one of his customers.

         [¶3] On the evening of July 17, 2013, Cote received a text message from the victim asking Cote to come to the victims residence in Detroit. Cote agreed and walked to the victims trailer, where the two proceeded to smoke marijuana. After making "small talk, " the victim confronted Cote about Cotes role in misleading agents from the Bureau of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who were conducting an investigation of the victim. Cote, who had previously agreed to lie to the investigators on the victims behalf, told the victim that he was having second thoughts about his continued involvement in the scheme. A physical altercation ensued, and Cote, using a metal pipe, bludgeoned the victim to death, striking him multiple times in the head.

         [¶4] On September 6, 2013, Cote was charged by indictment with murder, 17-A M.R.S. § 201(1)(A), and he subsequently entered a not guilty plea.

         A. Motion to Suppress

         [¶5] Before trial, Cote moved to suppress statements he made to law enforcement officials prior to his arrest. A hearing on his motion was held on May 1, 2014. At the conclusion of the hearing, the motion court made the following findings, which are supported by the record. See State v. Lovett, 2015 ME 7, ¶ 3, 109 A.3d 1135.

         [¶6] On the morning after the victims death, a detective from the Maine State Police and several other law enforcement officers arrived at the residence of Cotes friends where Cote had slept the previous night. From outside the residence, the detective placed a call to Cotes cell phone. When Cote answered the call, he initially lied about his whereabouts, informing the detective that he was driving around Palmyra. The detective then revealed that he knew that Cote was inside the home and asked him to come outside to speak with him. Cote agreed and walked to the bottom of the driveway, where he was greeted by the detective. The detective invited Cote to speak with him in the back of his cruiser and Cote agreed.

         [¶7] Over the course of the morning, the detective asked Cote a number of questions concerning his whereabouts on the day of the victims death, but he did not readily reveal that he was investigating a homicide or that Cotes name had come up in the early stages of that investigation. The detective did, however, consistently inform Cote that he was not under arrest and that his involvement in the interview was voluntary. The interview was conducted in a calm manner and the detective allowed Cote to make and receive phone calls and to take breaks to smoke cigarettes and relieve himself.

         [¶8] Eventually, the detective informed Cote that he was conducting an investigation into the death of the victim and that Cote was a person of interest. Cote continued his willing participation in the interview until around 12:40 p.m., approximately three hours after the interview began, when he inquired as to what the next steps in the process would be and informed the detective that he had things to do later that day. The detective largely ignored these concerns, however, and continued with the interview, obtaining additional statements; conducting a consented to search of Cotes trailer; taking pictures of his injuries, phone logs and text messages; and obtaining a DNA sample.

         [¶9] After this initial interview on July 18, the detective interviewed Cote twice more: once on July 23 at the home of an acquaintance and again immediately preceding his arrest on July 24 at his grandparents house. At no time before his arrest on July 24 was Cote administered Miranda warnings.

         [¶10] After the hearing, the court (Horton, J.) granted Cotes motion to suppress in part, concluding that he was in custody for Miranda purposes beginning at 12:44 p.m. on July 18, and that because he was not given the requisite Miranda warnings at that time, any statements he made after that point would be suppressed. The court denied, however, Cotes motion insofar as it pertained to statements obtained prior to 12:44 p.m. on July 18, or those obtained on July 23 and 24, because he was not in custody during those interactions. The court also concluded that the noncustodial ...

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