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State v. Hopkins

Supreme Court of Maine

July 17, 2018


          Argued: June 12, 2018

          Laura P. Shaw, Esq. (orally), Camden Law LLP, Camden, for appellant Miranda G. Hopkins

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


          ALEXANDER, J.

         [¶1] Miranda G. Hopkins appeals from a judgment of conviction of manslaughter (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 2O3(1)(A) (2017), entered in the trial court (Waldo County, R. Murray, J.) following a jury trial. Hopkins contends that the court erred in (1) denying her motion to suppress statements she made to law enforcement officers during five different interviews and (2) giving the jury an allegedly confusing instruction on concurrent causation. Hopkins also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's conclusion, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Hopkins caused the death of her infant son. We affirm the judgment.


         [¶2] This statement of the facts and pretrial history includes reference to five different statements that Hopkins made to law enforcement officers at various times. Those statements were subject to a motion to suppress and are at issue in this appeal. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, the jury, at the trial, and the court, at the motion hearing, rationally could have found the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Nobles, 2018 ME 26, ¶ 2, 179 A.3d 910; State v. Gerry, 2016 ME 163, ¶ 2, 150 A.3d 810.

         [¶3] On the morning of January 11, 2017, Miranda Hopkins sent two of her three children-her eight-year-old son and six-year-old son-to school. Hopkins, with her seven-week-old son, then joined a friend and the friend's son for coffee and some shopping. Hopkins, her friend, and their children returned to Hopkins's home that afternoon to wait for Hopkins's older sons to return home from school.

         [¶4] While waiting for the older boys, Hopkins and her friend drank shots of Fireball whiskey and smoked marijuana. The older boys arrived home around 3:30 p.m. After the boys arrived home, Hopkins and her friend each had a couple more shots of Fireball whiskey. Around 5:30 p.m., Hopkins's cousin and her cousin's daughter arrived at Hopkins's home for dinner. About twenty or thirty minutes later, Hopkins's friend and her son left Hopkins's home.

         [¶5] Hopkins had "a few more shots" of Fireball whiskey with her cousin. Hopkins "wasn't counting" but estimated that between 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. she consumed roughly seven shots of Fireball whiskey, smoked marijuana, and took a Benadryl.

         [¶6] Around 8:00 p.m., Hopkins's cousin and her cousin's daughter left, and Hopkins began her nighttime routine by getting her older boys ready for bed. While she was helping the older boys, she put the baby in a bouncy seat in the living room. Hopkins got the boys into their bed and began feeling very "spinny" and "not feeling well at all." Hopkins lay down at the foot of the older boys' bed and "fell asleep big time." She awoke much later that night due to a "gall bladder attack." Hopkins got an ice pack and then lay down in her own bed. She "wasn't paying attention to anything" as she walked from the older boys' room, into the kitchen, and then into her bedroom.

         [¶7] Hopkins dozed off and then woke up again. Upon waking up, she reached over and felt the baby's "ice cold" hand. She testified that the baby was in his "boppy"[1] in an unnatural position and that his head was "wrong." She immediately jumped out of bed, turned on the lights, and grabbed her phone to dial 9-1-1.[2]

         [¶8] At around 1:47 a.m., Hopkins called 9-1-1 and reported that the baby was not breathing, was cold to the touch, and had a big bruise on him. She told the 9-1-1 dispatcher that one of her older boys must have jumped on the baby in the night, but that she had not heard him cry or any other noises. The dispatcher instructed Hopkins to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

         [¶9] At around 2:06 a.m., a Waldo County Sheriff's deputy arrived at Hopkins's home. She found Hopkins performing CPR on the baby on the floor in her bedroom. The deputy took over CPR and noticed that the baby had a "significant amount of bruising" on his forehead and chest, had scratches on his face and neck, and was stiff and cold. While performing CPR, the deputy contacted her dispatch center and requested that a detective come to investigate.

         [¶10] Around 2:16 a.m., emergency medical technicians (EMTs) arrived at the home and took over CPR from the deputy. The EMTs brought in an automatic external defibrillator (AED), which is able to sense any cardiac rhythm that is shockable, and attached the paddles to the baby. There was no shockable rhythm, and the EMTs pronounced the baby dead.

         [¶11] While the EMTs were working on the baby, the deputy left the bedroom and went into the living room to speak with Hopkins. The deputy advised Hopkins that her baby was dead. Hopkins said that she knew he was gone, mentioned the bruising, and said that she didn't know how the baby got the bruises, but believed that one of the older boys had been responsible. She pointed out her eight-year-old son, sleeping on the couch, to the deputy, then took the deputy down the hall to see her six-year-old son, who was still sleeping in his bed.

         [¶13] The deputy explained to Hopkins that, in all child death cases, it was standard procedure to call a detective and that a detective would be arriving shortly. Hopkins then told the deputy about her day, which ended with her and the baby going to bed around 9:00 p.m. As they spoke, the deputy smelled alcohol on Hopkins's breath. The deputy asked Hopkins if she had anything to drink that night. Hopkins told her that she woke up around 11:30 p.m. with gall bladder pain and had a "couple of shots" of Fireball whiskey to help with the pain. Hopkins said that she then went back to bed. She said that she woke up a few hours later, reached over to the baby, and found him cold, stiff, and unresponsive, at which point she called 9-1-1. Hopkins told the deputy that she thought that her oldest son must have killed the baby, but she admitted that she had not heard the baby cry out or felt the bed moving.

         [¶13] Around 3:00 a.m., a Maine State Police detective sergeant arrived at Hopkins's home. Upon the detective sergeant's arrival, the deputy met him outside to brief him on the situation. Upon entering Hopkins's home, the detective sergeant exchanged introductory remarks with Hopkins and then gave her Miranda warnings.[3] Hopkins signed a Miranda waiver and agreed to participate in a recorded interview.

         [¶14] Hopkins told the detective that she went to bed around 9:00 p.m., then got up around 10:30 p.m. to do the "mommy thing" and check all the doors to make sure they were secure, and then went back to sleep. She said that she woke up later and found the baby cold, bruised, and not breathing. She described herself to the detective as a "light sleeper," but said that the baby had not cried, she did not hear either of the older boys, and neither of the older boys was in her bed when she woke up. She guessed that one of her older boys must have climbed into bed beside her and killed the baby.

         [¶15] Hopkins said that she had never seen either of the older boys be aggressive with the baby. She said that the baby had been sleeping "beside [her] like always" in his boppy and that she did not hear either of the older boys come into the room. She also said that she "always" had her three-foot-tall safety gate secured in her bedroom doorway, and that it had been in place that night. She further indicated that neither of the older boys understood how to work the gate.

         [¶16] The deputy then returned inside at the request of Hopkins, and the detective went outside. The detective left his recording device on the kitchen table; the device continued to record Hopkins and the deputy as they conversed. Hopkins again told the deputy that her oldest son must have killed the baby. She stated that she was curled up in a ball asleep on her bed and she didn't feel the bed move, but she guessed that one of the boys "climbed over the top of [the baby], like judging by [the baby's] head. Maybe that's why he didn't make a sound." But she also said the safety gate was always secured in her bedroom door and neither of the older boys had ever crawled over the baby in the bed before because they knew it was his spot.

         [¶17] After the baby's body was removed from the home, Hopkins agreed to participate in a videotaped walk-through to explain where she and the baby had been positioned in her bed. A detective from the Maine State Police and a sergeant from the Evidence Response Team participated in the videotaped walk-through interview with Hopkins. During this walk-through, Hopkins pointed out the boppy, described the blankets she used to cover the baby up, described her position on her bed, pointed out the safety gate, and explained that the safety gate had been in its position that night.

         [¶18] Later that morning at around 7:30 a.m., Hopkins agreed to be further interviewed by the detective who participated in the videotaped walk-through. She met with the detective in his police cruiser because friends and family were arriving at her home. The detective reminded Hopkins that she had been provided Miranda warnings during her earlier recorded interview with the detective sergeant, informed her that those rights were still in effect, and offered to go over the rights with her. Hopkins declined the offer to review her Miranda rights.

         [¶19] Hopkins told the detective that she had two shots of Fireball whiskey around 5:00 p.m., while her cousin was visiting, to "clear her sinuses." She explained that after dinner she got the older boys into bed around 8:00 p.m. and then put the baby to sleep in his boppy on her bed around 9:00 p.m. She said that she took two hits from a marijuana joint after the older boys had gone to sleep and before she got the baby ready for bed because it "slows [her] brain down long enough that [she] can fall asleep." Hopkins stated that she lay down and fell asleep around 9:00 p.m. and woke up about an hour later because her gall bladder was bothering her. At that time, she checked on the baby and saw that he was fine and still sleeping.

         [¶20] Hopkins said that she put a "healthy bruise-free one hundred percent healthy, happy baby to bed ...." She did not know what happened to the baby, and she agreed with the detective that the injuries were inflicted by someone but denied that she was responsible. She stated that she was "really praying" that her oldest son would talk to the detective and provide him with the answers he was looking for because one of her older boys was likely responsible, but she acknowledged that she had never seen either of them be violent with the baby.

         [¶21] The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy found abrasions and bruises all over the baby's body; skull fractures on both sides of his head and on the back of his head; multiple rib fractures; upper right arm fractures; swelling and bleeding inside the scalp; retinal and optic nerve sheath hemorrhage; and bleeding into the cervical spinal cord. The medical examiner opined that these injuries were indicative of "whiplash" forces applied to the body and that the rib fractures were likely a result of a "squeezing of the chest" type of force. The medical examiner determined that the baby's cause of death was blunt force trauma with craniocerebral injuries.[4]

         [¶22] On January 17, 2017, Hopkins was charged by complaint with one count of knowing or depraved indifference murder (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 2Ol(1)(A)-(B) (2017). Thereafter, Hopkins was indicted for manslaughter (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 2O3(1)(A). After the grand jury indictment, the State dismissed the original murder charge in the complaint.

         [¶23] On April 24, 2017, Hopkins filed a motion to suppress statements she made to law enforcement officers during the course of several interviews. A hearing on the motion was held on August 31, 2017. At the hearing, Hopkins argued that (1) her initial interview with the responding deputy was in violation of her Miranda rights and was involuntary; (2) her interview with the detective sergeant at her kitchen table was undertaken without a valid waiver of her Miranda rights and was involuntary; and that (3) her second interview with the deputy, (4) her interview during the videotaped walk-through, and (5) her interview with the detective in his cruiser were each undertaken without a reading of her Miranda ...

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