A detective's questioning coerced a confession from a man convicted of molesting a 9-year-old girl, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The court reversed the 2007 conviction of Joshua L. Stone in Sedgwick County District Court, saying the jury should not have heard his interview with Detective Kelly Mar.
Stone is serving a five-year prison sentence for aggravated indecent liberties with a child.
Marc Bennett, the deputy district attorney who supervises the prosecution of child sex crimes, said his office would review the case.
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"When the case is remanded to the district court, the Office of the District Attorney will conduct a full review of the matter and proceed appropriately," Bennett said in a statement.
According to the Supreme Court's review:
During his interview with the detective, Stone repeatedly claimed he did not touch the girl when she spent the night at a relative's house. Stone was also living there.
The next day, the girl told a 17-year-old baby sitter that Stone made her touch him inappropriately.
Mar told Stone his DNA had been found on the girl's pajamas. Mar pressed Stone to tell how it got there.
"In fact, when lab results were complete, no semen was detected on the pajama top," Justice Eric Rosen wrote in the opinion.
Mar didn't stop there, the court added. She repeatedly told Stone to tell "the truth," by agreeing with what the girl said happened.
"A close examination of the interrogation reveals that Stone did not volunteer facts but rather he adopted facts as they were suggested to him by the detective," Rosen wrote.
The detective also told Stone that admitting to the girl's claims would "keep him out of jail" and help the child.
Stone complained that he was exhausted during the interview.
Stone, who answered questions after 1 a.m., said he was easily confused when under stress. Then 23, Stone said he had worked 100 hours at his fast-food job the previous two weeks. He had a sore throat and had recently been in the hospital with an ankle injury, he told police.
The court said a recording and transcript of the detective's interview confirmed Stone's fatigue.
"His responses to the detective's questions were often disorganized and garbled," Rosen wrote. "He cried several times during the interrogation and became audibly frustrated with the detective's repeated questioning."
On their own, none of these would necessarily be improper, the court ruled, but "the combined effect was significant."
The court said Judge Jeff Goering should have kept Stone's statements out of the trial.
Justices also questioned whether former Sedgwick County prosecutor Christine Ladner made improper statements to the jury in her closing arguments. The defense claimed Ladner improperly impugned Stone's credibility to deflect the state's burden of proof.
While the court said Ladner's conduct was "inartful," it didn't constitute misconduct.
The jury originally could not reach a verdict. But after being told to continue its deliberations, jurors convicted Stone on one of the four charges against him. They found him not guilty on three other counts.
During sentencing, Goering cited the jury's struggle to reach a verdict, and thin evidence, as reason not to give the prison sentence of 25 years to life mandated under the Kansas statute known as Jessica's Law.