Lawyer claims defendant in Yap murder case never advised of his Miranda rights
Colonia, Yap — Anthony Rutun Teteth, one of the two defendants in the Rachelle Bergeron murder, was neither read his Miranda rights nor asked to sign a waiver-of-rights form during his arrest that was followed by a three-day interrogation, according to his attorney.
Defense Attorney Marstella Jack of Pohnpei is asking the FSM Supreme Court to suppress Teteth’s confession during his interrogation at the FSM National Police Station on Oct. 25, 2019.
Teteth has been charged along with Francis Choay Buchun with violating the FSM Weapons Control Act in connection with their alleged possession of a 12-gauge shotgun and ammunition that was used in the killing of Yap’s former acting attorney general on Oct. 14, 2019.
FSM Supreme Court Judge Larry Wentworth presided over four pre-trial hearings held via Zoom between Dec. 17, 2020 and Feb. 2, 2021.
Witnesses called to the stand included Captain Kasner Aldens, Investigator Raynard Jonah and Officer Charles Otoko of the FSM National Police. Those present during the arrest testified that Teteth was read his rights.
Teteth denied any knowledge of the murder and any involvement in it during his arrest and during a four-hour interrogation at the FSM National Police Station.
During a subsequent cross examination, the prosecution asked Teteth how he could not have known about the murder that happened on a small island where news travels quickly. The incident took place 10 days prior to his arrest.
When questioned if Teteth was given a waiver to sign, Aldens replied "no."
Jack then accused the captain of being "very excited" about working with the FBI to the extent that he forgot the waiver.
The witness denied being "excited,” expressed his respect for the FBI and re-stated that the rights read to Teteth during his arrest were very clear.
A secret audio recording of a conversation between Buchun and Teteth was revealed to the suspect during the first night of interrogation. Recorded by Buchun, the two men were talking about a shotgun and its location and the lawsuit.
Upon hearing about the tape, Teteth broke down and confessed that “he had killed her” with “tears and a shaking voice, face down,” according to the captain.
The confession led the police and FBI to the location of the gun.
The interrogation ended for the night when Teteth asked for an attorney.
The following day, Quintina Letawerpiy, then an attorney with the Yap Public Defenders Office, was summoned to represent Teteth and called to the witness stand to testify about her role during the interrogation.
The defense said the audiotape was played during the interrogation but was not in the transcript of the interrogation. None of the officers could explain why it was not. Teteth later testified that it was not played when he was being questioned.
Jack also asked the captain if he had told Teteth that he needed to cooperate or he would be sent to Pohnpei.
“Yes, I did say that but it's part of the interrogation technique we use,” he replied.
Jack asked if he was trying to scare Teteth. “No,” he replied. She then asked if he had made any plea offers on the first day or the second day. “I don't recall,” the captain replied, “but that's the technique we use.”
“Do you use it to try to induce a confession?” Jack asked. “Yes,” Aldens replied. “How was it voluntary when it was induced?” she asked.
“He cooperated with the officers after he confessed; it's a formula technique,” he replied.
Jack said the captain had told the defendant “to remember these guys are from the FBI and I'd man up if I were you.”
“That's part of the interview technique,” he again replied.
“You were pressuring him. You asked him questions over and over again during the four hours. He kept saying no. Don't you think that was a lot of pressure for someone with no criminal record?” Jack asked.
Aldens replied, “I may repeat questions, but not pressure.”
When called to the stand on Jan. 14, Teteth was questioned if he was aware that the police were supposed to read him his rights. He replied yes.
Teteth testified that no one asked if he needed a lawyer and he did not ask for one even though he knew he had the right to legal representation.
Letawerpiy was at the police station when Teteth arrived the morning after his arrest and initial interrogation. She informed him that he had two options – cooperate with the police 100 percent or be sent to Pohnpei away from his family.
She advised him to cooperate with the police, Teteth said. But according to Letawerpiy, she did not advise him which option to accept nor did she counsel him in any way during the next two days.
When asked if Letawerpiy told him that he had the right to remain silent, Teteth responded that she did not. Questioned if he understood what self-incrimination means, he said no. He also denied that he knew what he was confessing to.
Asked by the prosecution when he realized he had been arrested “about a murder,” Teteth replied that it was after Letawerpiy arrived. He then decided to “tell her everything" and relayed “the whole story.”
The prosecutor, Jeffery Tilfas, asked why it took Teteth more than a year to bring up the issue of not being read his rights.
During the final hearing on Feb.1, Jack said Aldens had testified that he had the waiver that Teteth signed and had agreed to send it to her, but had not done so. She questioned if a waiver really existed.
Tilfas rebutted that a reading of rights and a waiver are two different things, and, according to the testimony of the arresting officers, he was read his rights when arrested.
The defense then asked the court to reopen the motion based on new evidence. Judge Wentworth granted the right to reopen due to “the seriousness of the charge” and requested a copy of the interrogation transcript that was redacted by the defense by Feb. 2.
Yap State Supreme Court is also hearing pre-trial motions for the state’s 13 charges that include murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault. The next hearings are scheduled for April 16 and May 7.