NEW PORT RICHEY — Donna Young was found dead in her bed on April 17, 2007. There was a pillow on top of the 52-year-old's face. The next day, her son, Ryan Joseph Young, returned to her home for another talk with the authorities investigating his mother's death.
That was when a detective told him the news: She died of suffocation.
The son buried his face in his hands and cried, according to court records, and this is what he said:
"I didn't mean to do it."
Then he was arrested on a charge of murder.
A year later, that arrest is in jeopardy. The state and defense dueled Wednesday over whether Ryan Young's purported confessions should be thrown out.
Those allegedly incriminating statements are the bulk of the state's case, said Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis.
"The issue is, was he in custody and when was he in custody?" Halkitis said after the hearing.
That's because Miranda rights — the constitutional prohibition against self-incrimination — are tied into whether a suspect is being held or arrested by police.
If a suspect volunteers incriminating information without being detained, then the statements are fair game for authorities.
But if a suspect is arrested or being held for a crime, then he must be made aware that anything he says may be used against him.
If a suspect invokes his right to remain silent, the questions must stop. Authorities must either arrest the suspect or let him go.
Courts records show Young was read his rights during his hours of talking with detectives. The question in this case is: Did they read him his rights at the right time? Or were they too late?
The answers will hinge on whether Young was considered to be in police custody during the hours he spent with detectives.
The defense said detectives detained Young inside a sheriff's car April 17 just minutes after he reported his mother's death to 911. Young was not read his Miranda rights at that time, the defense said.
Detectives didn't read Young his rights until halfway through a three-hour interview later that day at the Sheriff's Office, according to the defense.
Young's requests to go home were ignored, the defense said, and detectives sat between him and the interrogation room door.
"The defendant was physically blocked in by three detectives, subjected to repeated, loud, invasive, threatening and accusatory questions ..." Assistant Public Defender Dean Livermore wrote in his motion to suppress his client's statements.
Then when Young was questioned again before his arrest the next day, the defense said detectives again failed to read him his rights.
The state countered that the defense's motion should be denied because Young was never under arrest or being detained when he spoke to detectives April 17. He was allowed to leave after the first two interviews.
The prosecution also contends that Young was read his rights during the April 18 interview at his mother's home, when the defendant broke down crying.
More legal arguments are set for June. Veteran defense attorney Keith Hammond said the judge's decision will hinge on what he finds after reviewing hours of Young's taped statements with detectives.
"It'll come down to watching the video and listening to the audio," the lawyer said.
Multiple sclerosis left Donna Young needing a wheelchair or a walker at the time of her death. But that didn't keep her from working or working out.
Courts records show mother and son were at odds when she died. Authorities say Young broke into her house April 17, 2007, looking to steal a ring, but was surprised to find his mother home. He's accused of suffocating her with a pillow, then staging a break-in.
Ryan Young, now 25, was indicted for first-degree murder. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.