Man accused of shooting 26-year-old alleged romantic rival

Austin McDevitt’s Motion to Suppress statements partially granted

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 6:45pm

    BELFAST — A Morrill man accused of shooting a Belfast man to death on March 18, 2019, has had his Motion to Suppress partially granted by Justice Robert Murray, who is handling the trial. 

    Austin McDevitt, 22, stands accused of knowing an intentional murder after shooting 26-year-old Shane Sauer to death following a late-night altercation at a friend’s residence. 

    Attorneys for McDevitt filed a Motion to Suppress statements McDevitt made to Maine State Police detectives the day of the shooting, claiming that his statements were not made voluntarily and that he had not been properly Mirandized, among other claims. The Motion was made Oct. 16, with Justice Murray handing down an Order Feb. 27.

    Austin McDevitt is being represented by Attorney Eric Morse. 

    Justice Murray also reached a decision regarding Austin McDevitt’s attempt to have his statements to police suppressed. Attorneys for McDevitt had argued that his statements were not given voluntarily because he was not properly Mirandized, and because he reportedly invoked his right to an attorney after being Mirandized. The portion of the interview that has been called into question is also transcribed in Justice Murray’s Order. 

    In his Legal Conclusions, Justice Murray wrote:

    “[I]n order to demonstrate the admissibility of a suspect’s statements during custodial interrogation, the State bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that (1) law enforcement officers properly delivered Miranda warnings to the suspect before commencing the interrogations, and (2) the suspect knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived the privilege protected by warnings…. The State cannot meet this burden here because the Court concludes that Defendant unambiguously invoked his right to have an attorney present during questioning. Once a suspect invokes his right to counsel all questioning must cease until he is provided, counsel…. The inquiry into whether a suspect has invoked his right to counsel under Miranda is an objective one, and subjective beliefs of law enforcement about invocation are not determinative. 

    “Here, while Detective Andrews contended that McDevitt was saying ‘kind of two things,’ Detective Andrews had also just expressly told McDevitt that he had the right ‘to the presence of a lawyer here with you during questioning.’ Viewing the scene objectively, McDevitt, although arguably saying two things, was not saying two things that were inherently inconsistent. McDevitt was unambiguously invoking his right to have a lawyer present as it was just explained to him. McDevitt stated twice that he wanted a lawyer present with him during questioning. 

    “In response to whether he wished to answer questions at that time after having his Miranda rights in mind, he said, ‘Yes, but I would like to have a lawyer too, but I do want to explain my situation,’ and, ‘I would like to talk to you and I would like to talk to a lawyer too, at the same time…’ McDevitt expressly conveyed before any questioning had occurred and in response to an inquiry whether he wished to speak to law enforcement with his Miranda rights in mind, that he wanted an attorney present during questioning. The “clarification” by Detective Andrews after this is what caused there to be ambiguity, but Defendant had already invoked his right to personal counsel by that point; questioning should have ceased until an attorney was provided.”

    While acknowledging that McDevitt had, in fact, invoked his Miranda rights, Justice Murray also noted that because a Miranda violation does not bar all use of the defendant’s statements, the Court must address whether the McDevitt’s statements were voluntary, according to the order. 

    Justice Murray wrote that while “at first blush, it may appear inherently inconsistent to conclude that the state cannot meet a lower burden of proof regarding Miranda warnings (because McDevitt invoked his right to counsel), but then proceed on to analyze whether the State can meet a higher burden of proof regarding the voluntariness of those statements following the Miranda violation. Despite this,” the Order continues, “it is an unremarkable proposition to note that one’s Miranda rights can be violated (resulting in suppression of the statements that follow the violation from the case-in-chief) while the statements given after that violation were voluntary.”

    According to Justice Murray, “the Court has no concerns about the voluntariness of McDaevitt’s statements; they were voluntary beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Murray wrote that when McDevitt invoked his right to counsel, he was resolute in his position that he wanted to tell the detectives his story…. The detectives did not force, coerce, or compel him to make these statements that he wanted to tell them his side of the story. He was not suffering from any apparent mental illness (nor has he argued that he was). McDevitt was articulate, he was emotionally stable, and his conduct during the interrogation did not raise any red flags. There is no question that he wanted to voluntarily tell his story to the detectives (he simply desired to have the assistance of an attorney while doing so, which the detectives did not honor,” Justice Murray’s Order notes. 

    Due to the complexities of the issue, McDevitt’s Motion to Suppress was granted in part. 

    “Statements made after McDevitt initially invoked his right to have counsel present during questioning are suppressed fro the State’s case-in-chief. The statements, however, were voluntary beyond a reasonable doubt and are not barred from use for impeachment purposes.”

    The order was signed by Justice Murray Feb. 27.

    A Feb. 28 Order Regarding Voir Dire Deadlines was issued by Justice Robert Murray in preparation for the trial of McDevitt.

    Voir dire refers to a part of the jury selection process where questions are posed to jurors by the presiding judge, according to the State of Maine Judicial Branch. It is noted that in some cases the judge, the attorneys, or both may ask questions of the entire group. In some cases, jurors are questioned separately from other jurors. 

    “The purpose of voir dire is to discover if there are reasons why any juror cannot be fair about the case. If you cannot be objective about the case, or if you have a personal interest in it, you should tell the judge at this time,” according to the Trial Juror Handbook featured on the State of Maine website

    In the order, Murray wrote that the Court anticipates jury selection will begin with the [jury] pool completing a written survey on April 7, with further voir dire to be completed April 8. A draft of the written survey has been prepared by the Court and both prosecutors and defense attorneys must alert the court to any objections, proposed modifications, deletions or additions be presented to the court no later than March 20. 

    The order further states both prosecutors and defense attorneys submit their respective witness lists by the same date, March 20. This is to allow their incorporation into a separate written survey for jury pool members. 

    A number of those listed as potential expert witnesses in the McDevitt trial submitted detailed resumes, which included education, career experience, professional trainings, awards, committees, and courses instructed, among other qualifications included.

    Some of those expected to testify as experts include Maine State Police Sergeant Scott Bryant, who is the commander for the MSP Evidence Response Team; MSP Detective Christopher Cookson, who is part of the MSP Computer Crimes Unit; Dawn Ego, also of the MSP CCU; Sergeant Darrent Foster, who works in Forensic Mapping with MSP, Kimberly Jones, a senior laboratory scientist with the MSP Crime Laboratory; and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, among several others. 

    The list was provided to the Court Dec. 16 by Assistant Attorney General Lisa R. Bogue.

    Erica Thoms can be reached at