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United States v. Bonner

April 20, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Presently before the court is a motion (Doc. 97) by defendant Chance D. Bonner ("Bonner") to suppress evidence of statements that he made to law enforcement officers over the course of two months' time during an investigation in 2008. The court held an evidentiary hearing on defendant's motion on November 23, 2009, (see Doc. 239), after which the parties filed supplemental briefs in support of their respective positions, (see Docs. 248, 267). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

I. Statement of Facts

On February 25, 2009, Bonner was indicted by a grand jury. The indictment contains fifteen counts and charges Bonner with criminal conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, three counts of interference with interstate commerce by threats or violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, three counts under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i)-(ii) for use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, two counts of taking a motor vehicle from another by force and violence or by intimidation in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119, and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). (See Doc. 1.) On March 12, 2009, Bonner entered a plea of not guilty to the indictment. (Doc. 45.)

The events underlying Bonner's indictment date back to the spring of 2008, when police departments in multiple south-central Pennsylvania jurisdictions began investigating a series of armed robberies that occurred in and around Cumberland County, Hamilton Township, and Franklin County. (See Doc. 216 at 2.) On the morning of May 13, 2008, Harrisburg detectives Donald Hefner ("Hefner") and John O'Connor ("O'Connor") executed a search warrant on Bonner's home. (Doc. 239 at 5-6.) Bonner was not present at the residence, but his mother provided Hefner with his cellular telephone number. (Id. at 6.) Hefner attempted to contact Bonner, and Bonner returned Hefner's call at 8:50 a.m. that morning.*fn1 (Id.)

According to Hefner, Bonner stated, "I know I'm wanted by the police. What are my charges?" (Id.) Hefner explained that there were outstanding warrants for defendant's arrest on charges of robbery and burglary. (Id.) Hefner then asked Bonner about the robbery charge and Bonner replied with an ambiguous reference to individuals named "D.C." and Jennifer Bass ("Bass"). (See id. at 7.) Hefner characterized the conversation as one in which Bonner "was trying to negotiate a turn-in with me. He wanted me to talk to a state parole officer and he wanted to negotiate a turn-in. That's what the phone call was about." (Id. at 8.)

Unbeknownst to Hefner at the time, Bonner was in New York City with Bass, his girlfriend. (See id. at 12, 16.)

The following day, Bonner and Bass were taken into custody in Suffolk County, New York on the outstanding robbery warrant. (Id. at 16.) Bonner and Bass had two children together, both of whom were present during their parents' arrest, and both of whom were taken into protective custody. (See id. at 26.) Officers in New York thereafter contacted O'Connor, and O'Connor immediately departed for New York in order to transfer Bonner back to Harrisburg. (Id.) O'Connor was accompanied on this trip by Jeffrey Kurtz ("Kurtz"), a detective with the Carlisle Borough police department. When the detectives arrived at the precinct in Suffolk County, they met with Bonner in an interview room and told him he was not a target of their investigation. (Id. at 17, 29-30.) Kurtz testified that

We [then] informed [defendant] of Miranda.*fn2 Neither he, being O'Connor, or I had an actual rights paper with us. We both left Carlisle, Harrisburg[,] pretty quickly that afternoon. We spoke with him [defendant], he agreed to speak with us. He said he understood his rights. We began to talk about some robberies in Cumberland and Dauphin counties. We spoke with him for probably half an hour, maybe forty minutes. (Id.) Kurtz added that Bonner specifically agreed to speak with the detectives outside the presence of an attorney. (Id. at 18.) O'Connor independently verified that "Detective Kurtz told [defendant] his constitutional rights, and [defendant] said he understood his rights and wanted to talk and he wanted to cooperate."*fn3 (Id. at 41.) For his part, defendant testified that he could not recall whether he was informed of his Miranda rights.

Notwithstanding his apparent willingness to cooperate, Kurtz testified that Bonner was "a little bit reluctant to want to give up information." (Id. at 19.) O'Connor characterized Bonner's behavior as "minimizing and giving BS." (Id. at 42.) Feeling that they were not making progress-and recognizing that defendant was somewhat "agitated" and "tired"-the detectives ended the interview without obtaining any useful information. (See id. at 19, 42.) Bonner claims that before they terminated questioning that evening, O'Connor "said specifically that if I were to assist them in the investigation, that I would be able to see my son again and that they would make substantial steps to seeing to them getting back to Harrisburg and me being able to see them before we were to leave." (Id. at 105.) Both officers deny that any such statements were made regarding the status of Bonner's children. (See id. at 31, 51.)

Detectives O'Connor and Kurtz took custody of Bonner and Bass the next morning in order to return them to Harrisburg. (Id. at 20.) Prior to departure, the detectives completed extradition paperwork at the Suffolk County courthouse and Bonner and Bass appeared before a judge to waive their right to contest extradition. (See id. at 43-44.) The state of New York had appointed Bonner defense counsel for this extradition hearing, and at hearing's end, Bonner's attorney approached O'Connor and said, "Look, I told him [defendant] I don't want him to talk to you. I don't want you to talk to him." (Id. at 43-44.) O'Connor agreed, and the detectives departed shortly thereafter, Bonner and Bass in tow. Kurtz assumed driving responsibilities and Bass was seated in the driver's seat; Bonner and O'Connor rode in the backseat of the vehicle. (Id. at 43.)

According to O'Connor, Bonner initiated conversation almost immediately after they began driving. (See id. at 54.) He first inquired, "how much time am I looking at?" (Id. at 44.) Bonner then repeatedly offered to cooperate if the charges were dropped against Bass, and suggested that he "do eight years." (See id. at 44-45.) O'Connor explained that he could not speak with Bonner, but Bonner "kept trying to bring it up." (Id. at 46.) At that point, O'Connor said,

'Look, dude, I can't talk to you. Your lawyer told me I can't talk to you,' and he [defendant] said, 'Fuck that, I'm going to talk anyways.' I was like okay, here we go, and he then went around and he wouldn't admit directly that he was involved in the stuff on the West Shore. He kept saying, 'Well, let's say I did but I didn't do it,'....

So I said, he kept going on about, 'Yeah, but I didn't really do it, but I'm going to say I did it. Will I get eight years for this and will you drop charges against her?' And I said, 'Dude, I can't make promises,' and this went on and on,.... (Id.) As the ride progressed, Bonner continued to volunteer information, stating, among other comments, that: (1) he "did it"; (2) he "was the one who robbed that guy and it was a drug deal gone bad"; and (3) he "was the good robber. I was the one reassuring the victim."*fn4 (See id. at 44, 47.) Neither detective provided Bonner with Miranda warnings during the return trip.*fn5 (Id. at 34, 48.) When the officers arrived in Harrisburg, Bonner was placed into custody at the Dauphin County prison and was assigned a court-appointed attorney, Dale Kevin. (See id. at 109.)

On May 19, 2008, Lower Paxton Township police detective Steve Alcorn ("Alcorn") and Swatara Township police detective George Haney ("Haney") visited Bonner at the Dauphin County prison. (Id. at 60.) The purpose of this visit was to question Bonner regarding multiple home invasion robberies which had occurred in neighboring jurisdictions. (Id. at 61.) Before commencing a substantive discussion, Alcorn advised Bonner of his Miranda rights, and Bonner expressed a willingness to cooperate outside the presence of his attorney.*fn6 (See id. at 62, 79.) Bonner then provided detailed information concerning multiple robberies. Bonner testified that he has no recollection of receiving Miranda warnings, and that he was told he would not be prosecuted if he was cooperative. (See id. at 109-10.) Alcorn denies that any such promises were made. (Id. at 63.)

On May 20, 2008, Bonner was interviewed at the Dauphin County prison by two Pennsylvania State Troopers, Frank Hershey ("Hershey") and Aaron Martin ("Martin"). (Id. at 66-67.) Before they began to converse, Martin advised Bonner of his Miranda rights, and Bonner completed a written waiver form indicating that he was aware of his rights and was willingly waiving them. (See id. at 65, 68, 75.) Bonner claims that before signing the waiver, he was told he would not be prosecuted. (See id. at 109.) He also contends that he requested the presence of his attorney, but was told he did not "need [his] lawyer right now." (Id. at 110.) During the interview, Bonner provided several inculpatory statements regarding multiple central Pennsylvania robberies.

On June 18, 2008, Haney returned to the Dauphin County prison, but then transported Bonner to the Swatara Township police department for an interview with Scott Endy ("Endy"), an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. (Id. at 80, 85-86.) At the stationhouse, Bonner was again advised of his Miranda rights, he appeared to understand them, and he agreed to speak with Endy. (Id. at 80.) Endy also presented Bonner with a waiver of rights form, which Bonner signed. (Id. at 82, 86-87.) Prior to signing this form, Endy explained to Bonner that he was a target of their ...

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