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U.S. v. Tyler

December 15, 1998



Before: Alito, Lewis and McKee, Circuit Judges.

Before: Cowen, Alito and McKee, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: McKee, Circuit Judge

Argued: August 12, 1997

Reargued: July 8, 1998

(Filed December 15, 1998)


Willie Lee Tyler ("Tyler") appeals his convictions on charges arising out of the killing of Doreen Proctor, a government witness who was scheduled to testify against Tyler's brother, David, the day after Proctor's murder. Tyler, David, Roberta Ronique Bell and others were subsequently arrested and charged in state court. Tyler and Bell were acquitted of murder in the state prosecution (though they were convicted of conspiracy to intimidate a witness) and were thereafter separately prosecuted for witness tampering and related offenses in federal court. Tyler was convicted of conspiracy, witness tampering, and a related firearms offense in the federal prosecution, and this appeal followed. He raises several assertions of error, however, we only discuss his assertion that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress certain custodial statements. His remaining assertions are either meritless or waived with the exception of his challenge to the court's jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 1512. We will mention that assertion only briefly as we have already disposed of that claim in the appeal taken by one of Tyler's companions. For the reasons that follow, we will reverse the district court's order denying suppression of the statement Tyler gave after being given his Miranda warnings, and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.*fn1


In April 1992, David Tyler was to be tried in the Court of Common Pleas in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania on criminal charges related to drug trafficking. Doreen Proctor, a government informant for the Tri-County Drug Task Force in Central Pennsylvania, was scheduled to testify against him. Ms. Proctor had previously testified against several individuals, including David Tyler, during a preliminary hearing in state court in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. However, the day before David Tyler's trial was to begin, David Tyler and his cohorts severely beat, stabbed, and shot Proctor. Her mangled body was discovered the next day.

On July 9, 1992, police arrested Willie Tyler for the murder of Proctor and took him to the Carlisle Borough Police Department. After an officer gave Tyler his Miranda warnings,*fn2 Tyler stated that he did not wish to make a statement, and the officers refrained from further interrogation.

Tyler was then taken to the State Police Barracks in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for re-arraignment.*fn3 Detective Ronald Egolf of the Carlisle Police Department was assigned to guard and process him. Upon arriving at the barracks, Tyler was taken to a small room and, at about 10:00 pm, he and Detective Egolf engaged in a Discussion that included hunting, Tyler's education, and Tyler's mother's health. Although it is clear that the police and Tyler were engaged in a Discussion up until 10:55 pm, it is not clear how many police were involved, nor exactly what was said. It is clear, however, that at approximately 10:55 pm, Tyler began to cry, and the police again warned him of his Miranda rights. This time Tyler gave an inculpatory statement that was introduced against him at his trial.

Eleven days later, on July 20, police obtained another statement from Tyler while he was in custody in Adams County Jail. The government maintains that the officers repeated Miranda warnings, that Tyler verbally acknowledged that he understood them, and that he proceeded to orally waive those rights and give another inculpatory statement. That statement, which was also introduced against him at trial, differs from the July 9 statement in that in the later statement Tyler states that David wanted only to "scare" Ms. Proctor. Def. Exh. "J". In his earlier statement, Tyler had said that David wanted to kill her.

Tyler filed a motion to suppress all statements made on July 9, and the statement he made on July 20. The district court granted Tyler's suppression motion as to any statement Tyler may have given on July 9 before receiving Miranda warnings ("the 10:00 pm statement"),*fn4 but denied it both as to the statement he gave after he was warned ("the 10:55 pm statement"), and the statement he later gave on July 20 in the Adams County jail. Tyler now argues that the district court should have suppressed both the 10:55 pm statement and the July 20 statement. Although we agree that the district court erred in denying the suppression motion as to the 10:55 statement, we cannot, on the basis of this record, make a determination as to the July 20 statement. Accordingly, we will remand to allow the district court to make an appropriate inquiry into the admissibility of that statement. If the court concludes that the July 20 statement was properly admitted, it must then determine whether or not the error of admitting the July 9 statement was harmless.


Before addressing the substance of Tyler's challenge to the district court's rulings on the suppression motion, we first note that Tyler also argues that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(A) and (C) (tampering with a federal witness, or interfering with a federal investigation). We need not discuss that contention, however, because we recently rejected the identical contention of co-defendant, Roberta Ronique Bell, in her appeal from her conviction based upon her involvement in the murder of Ms. Proctor. See United States v. Bell, 113 F.3d 1345, 1348-51 (3d Cir. 1997). We reject Tyler's argument that the evidence did not establish federal jurisdiction under that statute for the same reasons that we rejected the identical arguments of Ms. Bell.


A. The 10:55 pm Statement

Tyler maintains that the district court erred when it admitted the 10:55 pm statement that was taken on July 9, after he had exercised his right to remain silent. We exercise plenary review as to the admissibility of each of the challenged statements. United States v. Benton, 996 F.2d 642, 644 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing United States v. Calisto, 838 F.2d 711, 717-18 (3d Cir. 1988)).

There is no dispute that Tyler was in custody when he gave both the 10:55 pm statement and the July 20 statement.

In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court held that

[W]hen an individual is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom by the authorities in any significant way and is subjected to questioning, the privilege against self-incrimination is jeopardized. Procedural safeguards must be employed to protect the privilege and unless other fully effective means are adopted to notify the person of his right of silence and to assure that the exercise of the right will be scrupulously honored, [certain warnings] are required . . . . But unless and until such warnings and waiver are demonstrated by the prosecution . . . no evidence obtained as a result of interrogation can be used against him.

384 U.S. at 478-79 (emphasis added). The Supreme Court elaborated upon this in Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96 (1975). There, the Court succinctly stated: "We .. . conclude that the admissibility of statements obtained after the person in custody has decided to remain silent depends under Miranda on whether his right to cut off questioning was scrupulously honored." 384 U.S. at 104 (emphasis in the original text).

When Tyler was taken to the police barracks after asserting his right to remain silent, he was placed in a small room, the walls of which contained a timeline of the murder investigation and crime scene photographs, including two photographs of the body of Doreen Proctor (one of which was in color). He remained there for hours. In his report, Trooper Graham stated that he, Detective Ronald Egolf and Troopers Donnelly and Fenstermacher began "talking to" Tyler at about 10:00 pm, even though Tyler had previously told them that he did not want to make a statement. Graham also stated in his report:

While talking to Tyler he became very emotional and began to cry. Mr. Tyler stated he did not know they were going to kill Doreen Proctor and that he was there when it happened but did not see if Roberta Ronique Bell or Jerome Kenneth King did the shooting. He did however relate that those two subjects were the only people back there when it happened and that his brother David James Tyler had remained in the first vehicle with him. David James Tyler was [leaning] out of the car, crying and yelling, "We got to kill her now," "We got to kill her now."

At this time Mr. Tyler was stopped and again advised [of] his Miranda warnings by Trpr. Fenstermacher and Mr. Tyler signed the Rights Waiver form which is attached to this report . . . .

D.Ct. Op. at 7. According to Graham, it was at that moment that Tyler revealed all that happened the night of the murder and the identity of those involved.

Detective Egolf's testimony at the suppression hearing sharply conflicted with Trooper Graham's account of the evening. Egolf claimed that he and Tyler were the only two people present in the room when Tyler started to cry, and that he told Tyler to "tell the truth" when he began crying. App. at 287. Egolf also claimed that Tyler then began to speak and, at 10:55 pm, he (Egolf) read Tyler his rights.

The conflicting nature of the police testimony in this case caused the district court to comment: "We are troubled by the glaring inconsistencies between Trooper Graham's report and the testimony elicited at the suppression hearing concerning what occurred prior to 10:55 pm on July 9, 1992." D.Ct. Op. at 7. The court also noted that "[a]t this point,*fn5 the facts become unclear, particularly with respect to Trooper Graham." D. Ct. Op. at 6. However, the district court failed to make any findings of fact as to what actually happened. We note, however, that Egolf and Graham's versions of what occurred are both inconsistent with their obligation to scrupulously honor Tyler's assertion of his right to remain silent. Nevertheless, the district court's failure to make findings of fact has made our task of reviewing this record and ruling upon Tyler's arguments significantly more difficult. It is clear that the district court was troubled by the testimony the police gave in this case, and the court suggests that the testimony is not credible. For example, the court responded to the government's argument that Tyler never asserted his right to remain silent as follows:

[T]hat argument, and the testimony of the Government's witnesses at the [suppression] hearing are undermined by the prior testimony of Trooper Craig R. Fenstermacher, who testified that Defendant "was asked if he wanted to give us any statements or information and he declined, so no further questions were posed to him."

D. Ct. Op. at 6. Rather than make findings of fact and conduct an analysis based upon those findings, the district court allowed any statement into evidence that was obtained after Tyler was ...

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