Indictment dismissed, trial averted in baby homicide case

A Juneau man accused of hurting a baby so severely that she died from her injuries will not stand trial next month.

David J. Paul, 23, was charged with manslaughter and two counts of murder in the second degree, but a judge threw out the indictment in the case on Thursday.

Paul was accused of causing the death of 4-month old Rian Orr who passed away on August 15, 2010. He was interviewed by police investigators a few days after the baby died on August 18th, and then on July 8, 2011.

Defense attorney Eric Hedland wanted the court to suppress statements that Paul made to investigators. He argued that Paul may’ve been coerced into making an alleged confession.

Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg partially agreed in a twenty-page opinion issued on Thursday. During the earlier interview, Paul was essentially held at the police station and questioned even though he was initially told that he was free to go.

Paul was separated from his girlfriend, an investigator threatened him, and his Miranda warnings were not read until later. Investigators administered a polygraph test even though Paul indicated that he wanted an attorney to be present. Judge Pallenberg determined that it was a custodial interrogation that later produced an involuntary confession. As already determined in earlier Alaska case law, confessions are not admissible unless they are voluntary.

Judge Pallenberg suppressed part of that earlier interview, but he allowed the subsequent interview led by a different investigator almost eleven months later to be used as evidence.

Since the suppressed statements were part of the prosecution’s presentation to the grand jury, Judge Pallenberg also dismissed the indictment. He wrote in a two-page dismissal order that the improper evidence could have unfairly prejudiced the grand jury even though the remaining evidence would have been enough to support the indictment.

Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp said during Thursday’s hearing that she wasn’t sure when they would go back to the grand jury to seek a new indictment. But she said that “what remains is better evidence for the state.”

Thursday’s dismissal means that a jury trial will not start on July 9th as earlier scheduled.

Paul remains held pending posting of a $100,000 bail.

A status hearing is scheduled for late July.