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Judge allows murder suspect's statements

NEW PORT RICHEY — When detectives looked at Donna Young dead in her bed, a pillow covering her face, their suspicions pointed them to the person who had found her like that: her son.

Over two days in April 2007, two Pasco sheriff's detectives questioned Ryan Young, then 24, about what happened to his mother, eventually confronting him about inconsistencies in what he said. Several times, he denied killing her. But another time, according to court records, he admitted to making the scene in her house on Hathaway Drive look like a robbery. He said he put the pillow over her face and pressed down.

He said he was glad she was dead, according to the records.

On Friday, a judge ruled that Young made all those statements voluntarily, when he was not in custody and free to leave the interviews.

As such, prosecutors can use them as evidence against him when he faces trial for the first-degree murder of Donna Young, who was 52.

Ryan Young, who remains in custody, faces life in prison if convicted. No trial date has been set. Prosecutor Mike Halkitis has said that the confessions make up the bulk of the state's case against him.

Young's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Dean Livermore, in a motion to suppress the confessions, had argued that the detectives intimidated and coerced Young to talk. He said they failed to read him his Miranda rights, which protect people from incriminating themselves, until after he had confessed.

Ryan Young called 911 just before noon April 17, 2007. Authorities say he was planning to steal his mother's ring to hock for cash and was surprised to find her home. Donna Young suffered from advanced multiple sclerosis, but she remained active and social and was beloved in her neighborhood.

When her son saw her in bed, he held a pillow over her face for about a minute. Then he opened drawers and cut a window screen to make it look like a break-in, sheriff's reports say.

He first talked to a detective while sitting outside the house in an unmarked patrol car. The interview was recorded, and Judge Thane Covert wrote in his order that the questions pertained mostly to the circumstances of Donna Young's discovery.

Ryan Young was asked if he had anything to do with her death; he denied that he did. After about 30 minutes, he got out of the car and joined his friends.

Later that day, he agreed to meet with detectives at the Sheriff's Office in an interview room.

"The defendant voluntarily came to the office and was told that he was not under arrest," Covert wrote. "He was not restrained in any manner."

They talked for about two hours. The detective, Covert wrote, was "sympathetic, conversational and polite." After a while, Young took a cigarette break, then returned and was read his Miranda rights.

He said he wanted to quit for the day, but then agreed to talk a little longer. That's when he made the incriminating admissions, Covert wrote.

A sergeant came into the room and confronted Young about his statements, sometimes raising his voice. Young asked for the door to be closed for privacy. He left soon after.

Covert cited case law that says when an interview starts out as voluntary but graduates to an interrogation, that still does not mean the person is considered to be in custody.

The day after Donna Young was found dead, detectives went back to talk to her son again. This time they told him what an autopsy found to be the cause of death: suffocation.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Judge allows murder suspect's statements 09/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 22, 2008 11:27am]
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