NAPLES — Statements made to Collier sheriff's deputies and a weapon tied a fatal stabbing have been tossed out by a state appeal court in a 2008 case against a Golden Gate Estates man.
The appeal court Friday upheld Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt’s ruling that Gonzalo Venegas’ statements to officers are inadmissible because Collier deputies continued to question Venegas after he invoked his Miranda rights. The court, however, decided that a knife found by using information from Venegas’ police interview can’t be used at trial, a reversal of Hardt’s October 2010 ruling.
Venegas, now 47, is charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of fellow construction worker Oscar Quintero, 41, of North Naples. Sheriff’s deputies said Venegas led them to a knife found in a portable toilet at the county courthouse annex, where witnesses said Venegas charged at Quintero with a knife during an argument.
When questioned by deputies, Venegas was read his Miranda rights giving him the right to remain silent and consult an attorney and asked, "Do you want to talk to us now without a lawyer present?" Venegas responded "no" three times, once saying, "No, because there’s someone dead."
One detective later told Venegas: "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."
Another detective then said, "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 time, Venegas interrupted and said, "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."
Hardt ruled in 2010 that Venegas’ interview with officers was inadmissible but said the knife could be used as evidence.
"This disclosure was not the product of any coercion, threats, promises, deception or any other conduct that would render the statement involuntary," Hardt ruled 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."
The Lakeland-based 2nd District Court of Appeal court disagreed Friday, saying Venegas was directly responding to an unlawful interrogation.
"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 by suggesting that even if any incriminating statements have to be excluded, the state still could benefit from any incriminating ‘nontestimonial’ evidence it may be able to obtain," appeal Judge Charles A. Davis Jr. wrote.
No future court dates are scheduled in the case yet. Venegas posted $500,000 bond in 2008 and was released in July 2011 on his own promise to appear for future proceedings.