NAPLES — Most, but not all, of the statements made to investigators by Jonathan Rowles, the East Naples teen accused of shooting his mother in August 2010, will be admissible during a trial scheduled for next month, a Collier judge ruled Thursday.
All but 17 minutes of Rowles' roughly 90 minutes of statements to Collier County sheriff's detectives remain in play, including admissions that he shot his mother from behind while playing with a gun. Rowles had said he accidentally shot his mother while pretending to act like a rifle spinner, but prosecutors have charged the now-15-year-old with manslaughter.
Losing those 17 minutes of the interview likely won't alter the legal question of whether Rowles shot his mother Kelly, 39. In earlier statements that remain admissible, Rowles admits to the shooting and describes how he took a rifle from his father's gun cabinet, twirled it in a living room, pointed it at his mother and accidently pulled the trigger. Investigators also have physical evidence from the scene that hasn't been publicly disclosed.
The questions of intent and negligence remain, and in those 17 minutes, Rowles replied "yes" when asked if he shot his mother on purpose. Seconds later, however, Rowles said he "didn't mean" to shoot her and becomes confused about the definition of "intentionally."
In those 17 minutes at the end of a third and final interview with Rowles, sheriff's detective David Hurm Sr. intimidated and coerced statements from Rowles, Collier Circuit Judge Ramiro Mañalich said, rendering that portion of the interview inadmissible.
"It actually appears during this part of the interview detective Hurm actually invades Jonathan's personal space at times, increases the level of intensity and aggressiveness of the questions, raises his voice, and repeatedly slaps his hand and fist on the table while questioning Jonathan," Mañalich said.
Video shows Hurm moving from across a table to sit side-by-side with Rowles, raising his voice, taking a more accusatory tone and hitting the table.
At one point, Hurm asks "you're telling me you walked into the one spot where you could point a gun at your mom, you intentionally put a rifle to your shoulder and pointed the gun at her, and the only one bullet that was fired, you're saying was by accident?" Rowles replies "yes" and eventually buries his head in his arms, crying.
Mañalich said he considered several factors when deciding whether investigators intimidated and coerced the teen, including his age, criminal history, maturity and mental capacity. Rowles had a few run-ins with authority — he'd been moved to an alternative school after fighting with peers — and struggled with reading comprehension, but he also clearly answered detectives' questions during the interview.
"The tactics employed during the last portion of the recording might, in certain circumstances, be permissible with regard to seasoned adult suspects familiar with the criminal justice system," but not for Rowles, Mañalich said.
Two brief interviews with Rowles at the scene of his mother's death remain admissible, with Mañalich denying assistant public defender Justin Barger's argument that Rowles was interrogated without proper Miranda warnings. Investigators were sorting out the scene and never forced Rowles to answer questions, Mañalich said. In one of those interviews, Rowles admits to shooting his mother for the first time, leading detectives to bring him in for questioning.
Lawyers from both sides and Sheriff's Office officials declined to comment after Mañalich's ruling. A trial remains set for early December.