Daniel Whalon is being held without bail, charged with second-degree murder for the 2011 killing of his secret lover, Ralph Bell. But now a judge has ruled Whalon's confession cannot be used against him.
"I don't agree with his decision, but certainly it's well-reasoned," Chittenden County Deputy Prosecutor Paul Finnerty said.
Finnerty and Whalon's attorney, Robert Katims, went head-to-head last April. The defense wanted to suppress statements Whalon made to police hours after the murder, claiming he was never read his rights.
Robert Katims: Why didn't you provide Miranda warnings to Mr. Whalon when he got back to the police station?
Burlington Police Sgt. Michael Warren: Because he was not in custody.
The state claims Whalon's alleged confession was voluntary. And Burlington detectives say their five-hour interrogation was by the book. But Judge Brian Grearson disagreed, saying a reasonable person would not have felt free to end the interrogation and Whalon's mental health further complicated the situation. On Sept. 30, Grearson ruled: "...Under the totality of all the circumstances, including details of the police interrogation and Mr. Whalon's characteristics that made him more vulnerable to the interrogation techniques used against him, the court concludes that any statements made by Mr. Whalon after that time are not admissible because they were obtained in violation of Mr. Whalon's due process rights under the federal and Vermont Constitutions."
"It certainly changes the state's case, but there is a lot of other evidence that implicates Mr. Whalon," Finnerty said.
Finnerty praises police for catching Whalon so quickly, but admits the interrogation process could have gone differently.
"Looking back at the situation the police officers probably would think that it could have been done differently or more consistent with what the Vermont Supreme Court is saying," Finnerty said. "But hindsight is always 20/20."
Still, the state isn't backing down. And prosecutors have no plans to drop the charges against Whalon. But whether this murder case ends in a plea deal or trial remains to be seen.
"Hopefully at the end of the day justice will be served," Finnerty said.
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