The state Court of Appeals for Division II has overturned the first-degree murder conviction of Jaycee Fuller, saying Pierce County prosecutors violated his rights by suggesting to a jury that Fuller’s silences during a police interview meant he was guilty.
Appeals justices also ruled in a decision released today that Superior Court Judge Katherine Stolz improperly allowed into evidence too much information about past acts by Fuller that weren’t directly related to his trial in the death of Somali immigrant Mohamud Ahmed.
“Accordingly, we are compelled to reverse and remand for a new trial,” the panel’s opinion states.
Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, who handled Fuller’s trial along with deputy prosecutor Grant Blinn, said the appeals panel got it wrong and did not rely on Washington state law in rendering the opinion.
“We will be appealing to the state Supreme Court, and we’re confident we will prevail at that level,” Lindquist said.
Ahmed, a 22-year-old cab driver, died in March 2009 after being slashed and stabbed in his cab in a South Tacoma parking lot.
Lindquist and Blinn argued at trial that Fuller killed Ahmed in an attempted robbery that also was motivated by hate for immigrants. Fuller, who’s serving a 28-year sentence, maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings against him.
The case against him was overwhelmingly circumstantial. Detectives tied a knit cap found at the scene of the murder to Fuller, and Blinn and Lindquist showed jurors security video of a man who resembled Fuller wearing a similar cap outside a 6th Avenue restaurant about the time Ahmed picked up the person thought to have killed him.
Forensics experts found Ahmed’s blood on the outside of the cap and Fuller’s DNA on the inside of the hat, which was emblazoned with the logo of The Keg Steakhouse & Bar. Fuller received a similar cap when he worked for the restaurant in 2006.
The appeals panel homed in on the prosecution’s use of portions of Fuller’s interview with detectives as its chief basis for overturning his conviction. Fuller waived his right to remain silent before being questioned, meaning anything he said could be used against him in court.
Trouble was, the appeals panel said, prosecutors used what he didn’t say against him, which violated his constitutional rights.
They showed jurors portions of the interview where Fuller does not deny killing Ahmed and does not deny being the person in the security video.
Even criminal defendants who waive their right to remain silent can refuse to answer some questions, the panel said, citing previously established case law on the subject.
“The Ninth Circuit has explicitly held that ‘the right to silence is not an all or nothing proposition. A suspect may remain selectively silent by answering some questions and then refusing to answer others without taking the risk that his silence may be used against him,’” the appeals panel said.
Pierce County’s appeals lawyers argued Lindquist and Blinn used the non-statements to impeach Fuller’s defense theory, but the justices dismissed that argument.
“Fuller’s counsel argued that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Fuller committed Ahmed’s murder,” the panel said. “This is not a defense theory the state may attack using the defendant’s constitutionally protect silence.”
Fuller did not testify at his trial.
Lindquist said the controlling law should have been State v. Clark, where the state Supreme Court found that once a defendant waives his right to remain silent anything he says or doesn’t say can be used by prosecutors.
“When a defendant does not remain silent and instead talks to police, the state may comment on what he does not say,” the Clark ruling reads in part.