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State v. Beauregard

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

December 17, 2018

Sendra Beauregard.

          Providence County Superior Court Associate Justice Susan E. McGuirl P1/15-848AG

          For State: Jane M. McSoley

          For Defendant: Ronald L. Bonin, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.


          Gilbert V. Indeglia Associate Justice

         After a trial in Providence County Superior Court, a jury found the defendant, Sendra Beauregard (Beauregard or defendant), guilty of one count of second-degree murder and one count of discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence. On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial justice erred, pursuant to the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, [1] in allowing a firearm and ammunition into evidence after the Providence police obtained statements from the defendant in violation of her constitutional right to remain silent and right to counsel. Moreover, the defendant contends that the trial justice erred in failing to exclude the physical evidence obtained through the defendant's statements, asserting that her statements were involuntary and the product of coercion. Finally, the defendant avers that the trial justice erred in failing to suppress the physical evidence seized from her vehicle because the Providence police violated her constitutional rights pursuant to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution by impounding her vehicle without probable cause. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.


         Facts and Travel

         On March 17, 2015, a grand jury indicted defendant on count one, first-degree murder, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-23-1; and count two, discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-47-3.2(b)(4). The following facts give rise to these charges. At the time of her death, Pamela Donahue (Donahue) shared her apartment with Walter Woodyatt (Woodyatt), her former boyfriend. At trial, Woodyatt testified that he had a strained relationship with Donahue due to his drinking and her drug use. He explained that his romantic relationship with Donahue ultimately ended, but that he still lived in Donahue's apartment at the time in question. Following the end of her romantic relationship with Woodyatt, Donahue met defendant while they were both staying in the hospital, and the two began dating.

         On December 1, 2014, the day before Donahue was murdered, defendant went to the Providence police station to discuss concerns she had regarding Donahue's drug use and her abusive relationship with her drug dealer, with whom, according to defendant, Donahue had had sexual relations. After spending approximately thirty minutes speaking with a detective at the police station, defendant left without ever identifying Donahue by name.

         In the late afternoon of December 2, 2014, Woodyatt arrived at Donahue's apartment, after spending several hours at a local bar, to find Donahue and defendant talking; he alleged they were also doing drugs. Woodyatt testified at trial that, around 7:45 p.m., defendant gave him $40 and asked him to go "to the store right across the street" to get three packs of cigarettes and soda. Woodyatt testified that he obliged, and that he thought it was odd when he saw defendant pulling away in her vehicle as he left the store with defendant's change and the items she had requested. Woodyatt testified that he proceeded back to the apartment and that his announcement of arrival went unanswered. Woodyatt described finding Donahue face down on the floor; he testified that he "couldn't get her up." At 8:25 p.m., Woodyatt, unable to find the apartment phone, went upstairs to use a neighbor's phone to call the police; he informed them that he believed Donahue had overdosed.

         After the paramedics arrived and transported Donahue's body to the hospital, the police looked around the apartment for about an hour and a half, collecting drugs and cell phones. Woodyatt testified that, after the detectives left, he learned that Donahue had died. Later that same night, Woodyatt testified, defendant called the landline phone at the apartment and asked how Donahue was doing. Woodyatt informed defendant, "She's dead[, ]" and defendant hung up the phone. Upon examining Donahue's body, the medical examiner determined that a gunshot wound to the chest had caused Donahue's death. An investigation ensued.


         The First Interview

         On December 3, 2014, detectives met defendant at her Johnston, Rhode Island, apartment, and defendant agreed to accompany them to the Providence police station to discuss Donahue's death. During that time, other detectives began drafting a search warrant for defendant's apartment, and Johnston police secured the scene. Police conducted a search of defendant's apartment around 11:00 p.m. and found nothing of evidentiary value. However, while at defendant's apartment, detectives located her white Kia in the back parking lot of the apartment complex and towed the vehicle to the Providence police station for secure keeping until police could apply for a search warrant. That warrant was obtained and executed the next day, December 4, 2014. The police seized a shell casing and three cell phones from defendant's vehicle.

         In the interim, Detectives William Corrigan and Frank Villella of the Providence police department initiated an interview (the first interview)[2] with defendant at the police station and read defendant her Miranda rights.[3] Detective Corrigan testified that defendant confirmed that she understood her rights and that she checked a box on the rights form acknowledging as much. He testified that defendant told the detectives that someone had stolen money from her bank account during her recent stay in the hospital. Moreover, Det. Corrigan testified that defendant told detectives that she had been in a relationship with Donahue for several years.

         Finally, Det. Corrigan testified that defendant admitted to having had an argument with Donahue on the night of December 2, 2014, and that defendant told the detectives that she left the apartment soon after she sent Woodyatt to get cigarettes and soda because Donahue had asked her to leave. Approximately twenty-five minutes into the interview, defendant requested counsel and the police terminated the interview. At that time, defendant was not under arrest and she left the station. Detective Corrigan testified that, based on his extensive experience dealing with individuals under the influence of narcotics or alcohol, defendant did not appear to be inhibited by either during that interview.


         The Second Interview

         Nine days later, on December 12, 2014, police obtained an arrest warrant for defendant. On December 22, 2014, police located and arrested defendant and transported her to the police station, where Officer Kathleen Chamberlain booked and processed defendant around 2:30 p.m.[4]

         Detective Carlos Sical and Det. Corrigan arrived at the cellblock shortly before 5:00 p.m. and took defendant to an interview room for questioning (the second interview).[5]

         At the outset of the second interview, which began at 4:50 p.m., defendant asked the detectives if her attorney had contacted the police; Det. Corrigan informed defendant that the attorney had not. Detective Corrigan then read defendant her rights again. Near the beginning of the interview, defendant referenced counsel twice more. At one point she asked, "I mean, do I get my lawyer in here with * * * me then? I don't want to be alone if that's (inaudible). I don't know. I mean, I do know. I don't want to be alone." Then, after a short time, the following discussion occurred:

"[DEFENDANT]: * * *. I mean, my lawyer was called. But can you- can you call him again? See if he can come listen and understand what-what's going on?
"DETECTIVE CORRIGAN: So you want your lawyer
present? Is that-is that what you're saying?
"[DEFENDANT]: Yeah. I-I want-it's not 'cause I want to be (inaudible).
" * * *
"[DEFENDANT]: I just want someone to advocate for me. * * *."

         Nevertheless, the detectives did not stop the interview, and the conversation continued. During this interview, the detectives informed defendant that, in searching her vehicle, the police had found a shell casing in the front passenger side. The defendant denied any knowledge or involvement regarding the shell casing. Instead, defendant proposed the idea that perhaps someone had planted the shell casing in her vehicle in an effort to "pin" the crime on her. Until this point, defendant and the detectives had remained quiet and calm in their exchanges. However, after the detectives informed defendant about the shell casing, the video recording of the interview reveals, defendant became tense and raised her voice for a moment. The detectives also became argumentative for a short time.

         After that, the remainder of the second interview proceeded in a conversational and seemingly relaxed manner, and defendant continually denied any involvement in Donahue's murder. Eventually, defendant stated, "I thought I was supposed to have a lawyer here for questioning." The detectives, again, continued to question defendant. At some point thereafter, defendant asked the detectives if they had anything else to tell her, at which time the detectives told defendant that "[t]he bullet-the shell casing we found in your car, it matches the bullet that we found in her body." In response, defendant repeatedly told detectives that was "impossible."

         Subsequently, defendant again invoked her right to counsel:

"[DEFENDANT]: You're supposed-
"[DEFENDANT]: -to have a lawyer here. You're not
even supposed to continue to talk to me. Why can't-
"DETECTIVE SICAL: Do you want your lawyer?
"[DEFENDANT]: Well, I called him before. He said he
called down to the station. Did we check-now what do we do now? I've never been through this before.
" * * *" * * *
" * * *
" * * * ...

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