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MADISON - Statements made to a Sheboygan detective by a defendant accused of harboring or aiding a felon and with being a party to the crime of possession of a firearm by a felon will be admissible at trial, according to a decision issued today by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The appellate court's unanimous decision held that defendant Heather Markwardt's Miranda rights were not violated and that her statements to a Sheboygan detective were voluntary. The decision reverses a Sheboygan County Circuit Court's ruling that would have excluded from trial the statements made by the eighteen-year-old during police interrogation.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office handled the appeal on behalf of the State, praised the decision. "I'm pleased that the court recognized that the police acted properly during what was an emotional interrogation following the fatal shooting of an innocent young woman and the suicide of her killer."
Markwardt was charged in March 2006, with harboring or aiding a felon and with being party to the crime of possession of a firearm by a felon. The charges were filed after James Butler shot his 22-year-old girlfriend in the head at his Sheboygan residence and later committed suicide, using a gun Markwardt had returned to Butler just before the shooting. Butler's girlfriend, Trisha Bergemann, later died at Froedtert Hospital. Immediately after the shooting, Markwardt drove Butler away from the crime scene. When officers of the Jackson Police Department pulled over Markwardt's Blazer on Highway 60 about an hour later, Butler committed suicide, using the same gun with which he had shot Bergemann.
In October 2006, Sheboygan County Circuit Court Judge James Bolgert granted Markwardt's motion to suppress her statements to police, finding that a Sheboygan detective had violated her Miranda right to silence and that her statements were involuntary. The State appealed Bolgert's order, arguing that Markwardt's statements during interrogation did not amount to an unequivocal invocation of her right to silence. The State also argued that because there was no coercive police activity, Markwardt's statements were voluntary. The court of appeals agreed with the State, reversed the trial court's order, and remanded the case to Sheboygan County Circuit Court.
This case involves a pretrial appeal. The allegations in the complaint and described above have not yet been proven at a trial. Markwardt is presumed innocent, and the State bears the burden of proving her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case is being prosecuted at the trial level by Sheboygan County District Attorney Joe DeCecco. The State was represented on appeal by Assistant Attorney General Margie Moeller.