LABELLE -- Teddy Osceola’s first arrest in October 2009 was a misdemeanor charge, when Seminole Police said he gave a fake name at a traffic stop on the Big Cypress Reservation.
Handcuffed and hauled to the police station down the road, the 20-year-old was placed in a holding cell and interviewed for hours. Detectives fed him, allowed him to sleep, woke him up and interviewed him again.
By the time Osceola left the station, he faced a second, far more serious charge -- murder -- and was bound for the Hendry County jail. Detectives say he confessed to fatally shooting Immokalee teenager Ricky Trevino in the fallout of a drug robbery.
Some 16 months later, attorneys on Friday argued whether Osceola’s confession should be admitted in his approaching trial, or if it’s tainted by police misconduct. A pair of detectives spoke with the suspect 90 minutes before reading him his rights and recording the interview.
Friday, they testified they lacked reason to take such steps, never considering Osceola a suspect in Trevino’s disappearance until he abruptly confessed. Osceola’s attorney argued that evidence suggests otherwise, noting that the misdemeanor arrest came immediately after Trevino’s mother pursued him in her car and was simultaneous to a missing person’s investigation by Collier County Sheriff’s deputies.
“I would submit that the arrest of Mr. Osceola on the reservation was a ruse,” defense attorney Lee Hollander told Hendry Circuit Judge Nick Thompson. “They just wanted to get him to the station.”
If convicted of second-degree murder, Osceola faces life in prison. He filed a speedy trial demand on Friday, and his trial is scheduled for March 21.
Friday’s marathon hearing clocked in at nearly 12 hours, well beyond the three hours estimated by attorneys. It included testimony from Trevino’s mother, Noemi Trujillo, 39, and his girlfriend, Tiffany Villa, 21, in addition to the accounts of three detectives closely involved in the case.
Osceola, clad in a blue jail jumpsuit and shackled at the waist, remained silent through the duration. Family from both sides sat in on the hearing.
Hollander wants two of his client’s statements barred from trial, in addition to evidence from discovery of Trevino’s body, off a road near Clewiston. Osceola guided detectives to the location after giving the statements.
Trevino, 17, was last seen by family on Oct. 12, 2009, at the Grand Avenue home he shared with his family and girlfriend. Villa testified she and Trevino watched a Monday Night Football game with Trujillo before the mother went to bed. Villa said she then drove her boyfriend to a pavilion at Eden Park, where he was to meet with Osceola. The pair planned a pair of “licks,” or thefts, of ATV’s, she said.
That account clashed in part with the testimony of Trujillo, who said her son had warned her the day before that a bounty was on his head and that Osceola was rumored to be taking the contract. Trujillo said she was unaware of Trevino’s Monday-night excursion, and Villa hesitated to tell her.
The mother went to the Sheriff’s Office substation on Tuesday morning when her son failed to return home, filed a missing person’s report and mentioned the alleged bounty. Later that day, detective Michael McNeeley told Trujillo her son’s last call came from a tower on the reservation, spurring Trevino’s family to search the area.
The next day, Wednesday, the group spotted Osceola and several friends riding on County Road 833 in a Ford F350. Trujillo attempted to flag the car down and, failing, pursued it as she called McNeely. The detective, in turn, called Seminole Police, who responded to the chase and stopped Osceola’s truck.
Hollander said the missing person’s report was inadequate to stop Osceola’s vehicle, which officers never observed breaking traffic laws. He also noted the recording of the call between Trujillo, McNeely and the dispatcher, in which the detective warns the dispatcher that guns and drugs might be in Osceola’s vehicle.
Such questions -- what Seminole Police knew, and when they knew it -- were central to Friday’s hearing. Officers and detectives with the agency testified they understood the case as a missing person investigation until Osceola abruptly confessed. Three officers involved in the traffic stop said they believed Trevino might be inside the vehicle, and asked occupants for ID only to be sure.
Seminole Police detectives Joseph Johnson and Jared Romanella, said McNeely, the Sheriff’s Office detective, had yet to share any early investigative information -- facts that strongly suggested Osceola’s involvement -- before they sat down him. Because Osceola wasn’t a suspect, they didn’t read a Miranda warning or record the conversation.
“I didn’t have a crime,” Johnson said. “It was a missing juvenile. He wasn’t a suspect.”
Instead, as they spoke about Trevino and a prior drug robbery, Osceola blurted out that he shot the teen and dumped the body.
“It caught me very off guard,” Romanella said.
Hollander contended that detectives were guilty of “question first, warn later,” a tactic in which police win a confession, then turn recorders on and read Miranda. He noted that a Seminole Police officer was dispatched to secure the crime scene an hour before the first taped statement, in which Osceola named the location of the crime. Osceola gave a second statement near 4 a.m.
In closings, Assistant State Attorney Dan Feinberg said Seminole detectives acted properly when Osceola suddenly confessed.
“In this case, these officers did exactly what they should have done, when this issue -- which they did not expect -- came up...They stopped.”