Appeals court rules knife linked to 2008 homicide inadmissible

Gonzalo Venegas

Gonzalo Venegas

Santos: Do you want to talk to us now without a lawyer present?

Venegas: No.

Santos: Yes or no?

Venegas: No.

Santos: No?

Venegas: No, because there’s someone dead.

Later, the conversation continued.

Still: Okay. We’re going to have to either get -- or going to ask you to consent to give us the knife, the tool that you use(d). … Or I’m gonna have to go apply for a search warrant and search his house and his truck.

Santos: Do you understand me? Any way that we have to do it. You can give us permission and you can give us the tool that was used or we are going to—

Venegas: No, I know where it is. It’s in the bathroom. Yes, I put it in the bathroom because I got scared when this happened.

An appeals court ruled Friday that a knife linked to the 2008 stabbing death of a construction worker is inadmissible in court, the result of improper questioning by detectives investigating the case.

The Second District Court of Appeals decision Friday overturns a Collier County judge's ruling from 2010 and suppresses the weapon in the case against Gonzalo Rafael Venegas, 47, of Golden Gate Estates. He is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Oscar Quintero, 41, of North Naples.

Prosecutors charged Venegas after Quintero, his construction co-worker, was found dead at the County Courthouse Annex in April 2008.

Deputies questioned Venegas, who said he didn't want to speak without a lawyer. But when investigations continued speaking to Venegas, he blurted out that he put the alleged murder weapon, a knife, in a Porta-Potty at the courthouse, which was under construction.

In 2010, Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt ruled Venegas' statements to police were inadmissible because Venegas invoked his Miranda rights. But Hardt said the knife could be admitted as evidence.

On Friday, the appeals court said both the statements and knife were out.

"To exclude only the statement and not the knife in this case would not only reward the police for intentionally violating Venegas' right to counsel but would also encourage future such violations ... " Judge Charles A. Davis Jr. wrote.

Hardt wrote in 2010 that Venegas' statement about the knife location was voluntary, making the knife admissible.

"This disclosure was not the product of any coercion, threats, promises, deception or any other conduct that would render the statement involuntary," Hardt wrote in 2010. "The failure to give proper Miranda warnings does not require suppression of the physical fruits of a suspect's unwarned but otherwise voluntary statements."

A transcript from a detectives' interview with Venegas shows detective Gus Santos asked Venegas, "Do you want to talk to us now without a lawyer present," to which Venegas replied "no" three times.

A detective then asked Venegas to consent to giving deputies the knife. Another detective said to Venegas, "Do you understand me? Any way that we have to do it. You can give us permission and you can give us the tool that was used or we are going to "

At that point, Venegas interrupted, saying, "No, I know where it is. It's in the bathroom. Yes, I put it in the bathroom because I got scared when this happened."

During a February 2010 hearing, one of the detectives, Bill Still, testified he wasn't "110 percent sure" Venegas had invoked his Miranda rights because Santos was translating from Spanish and Venegas kept asking for his wife.

"The inference of this question was not to illicit a response to tell me where any kind of knife was at," Still testified. "It was to tell him, well, the next thing we are going to be doing is asking you for consent or we're going to be applying for search warrants for your vehicle and your home."

Prosecutors had argued that Venegas' statements were unexpected and not elicited during questioning.

"The officers did not engage in interrogation for Miranda purposes when they asked (Venegas) for permission to obtain the tool that (Venegas) used in the instant offense," prosecutors wrote in an appeal brief.

State Attorney's Office spokeswoman Samantha Syoen, citing the pending case, declined to comment on the appeals court's ruling and whether it will affect the charges against Venegas.

Venegas' lawyer, Donald Day, said Friday that if prosecutors press forward with the case, he will file a Stand Your Ground motion in the case. Witnesses said the stabbing occurred during a scuffle over construction tools.

Day said he hasn't been given any indication whether the case will continue without the key evidence.

"It would be tough, but I don't know every little strategy the state might have," Day said.

Originally freed on $500,000 bond in 2008, Venegas has been out on his own recognizance since July 2011. Day said he hadn't been in touch with Venegas about the ruling as of Friday afternoon.

No future court dates have been set.

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 1

Maxie writes:

Continuing to question someone arrested - or about to be - is a commonplace tactic in Collier County. No matter how loudly you scream "I WANT A LAWYER", they will continue to ask you questions, continue to probe, continue to insinuate, even to making statements that are patently false to get you to admit something that would justify the arrest, completely violating ones Miranda rights. Not that they or their bosses care about this illegal behavior. After all, they are doing their duty don't ya know?

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.