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Lawyer in Hillsborough baby theft case says confession obtained illegally

TAMPA — When the wife of a minor league baseball player sat in an interrogation room in March suspected of kidnapping a Plant City baby, did detectives obtain her confession legally?

No, her lawyer argues.

Dalton McKeever says Amalia Tabata-Pereira never said she was willing to waive her rights to remain silent or to consult with an attorney before she made incriminating statements. A prosecutor said she nodded in consent. In court Monday, Judge Daniel Sleet heard a defense motion to suppress what she said.

Sleet said he would review the evidence on his own before making a decision.

Prosecutors say Pereira posed as an immigration official and threatened Rosa Sirilo-Francisco and her boyfriend, Andres Cruz, with deportation if they didn't give their baby girl to Pereira. The mother complied, then contacted police six hours later to report a kidnapping.

Meanwhile, authorities say, Pereira presented the baby to her baseball player husband, Jose Tabata, as the daughter he'd never met.

"I held the baby as if it was my daughter," Tabata told investigators.

Pereira remains in jail, charged with felony kidnapping, interference with custody and impersonating a public officer.

She returned the baby after an Amber Alert went out, and then spoke to a special agent and a detective in an interrogation room at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. What happened in that interview is documented in transcripts.

In them, a detective reads her rights to her, and she says understands. Then, an agent asks if she wants to waive her rights, but she responds only with a question.

"Um," she responds, "Am I being accused of this? Because the baby was given to me. I did not take …"

"Well," says special agent Al Danna, "we want to hear your side of the story and we have to make a decision. … You need to tell us if you understand your rights and you want to waive your rights and you want to talk. We can't make you."

A prosecutor notes that in the video, Pereira nods her head and quietly says, "That's fine."

Pereira asks, "Can I talk and if I want an attorney present when I, if I feel I could, I just need a lawyer — "

Her attorney said interrogators should have stopped right there, that she was invoking her right to an attorney. A prosecutor said Pereira was simply asking when she could bring in her attorney, and noted that the officials told her she could do so at any time.

But Pereira didn't stop talking.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Lawyer in Hillsborough baby theft case says confession obtained illegally 02/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 15, 2010 11:43pm]
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