Lawyer wants confession tossed (8/13/09)

Says police violated mother’s rights when asking about abuse

Aug. 13, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

A Williston woman who allegedly admitted to knowing that Mark Hulett molested her daughter several years ago is looking to have her confession thrown out and one of the charges against her dismissed.

William Norful, the woman’s lawyer, filed the requests last month as part of the ongoing case. The Observer is not revealing the 34-year-old woman’s name to protect her daughter’s identity.

In December 2008, prosecutors charged the woman with felony aggravated sexual assault on a child younger than 10 and aiding in the commission of a felony. If convicted, the mother faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, far more than Hulett’s sentence.

Hulett was sentenced in January 2006 to three years in prison for sexual assault.

Vermont law has changed since the conviction, and now states that accomplices in sexual assault crimes are to be held as accountable as perpetrators.

Prosecutors say the woman knew about and did not try to stop Hulett from sexually abusing her daughter. The abuse occurred repeatedly at the girl’s home when she was between the ages of 6 and 10.

In an interview with a therapist last summer, the daughter said her mother was aware of what was happening in the home, according to a police affidavit.

But Norful, the mother’s court appointed public defender, believes the woman’s rights were violated when investigators questioned her in November. Norful also argued that the statute of limitations on the sexual assault charge expired before the woman was formally charged.

According to court documents filed by Norful, the woman felt pressured by the police interrogation at her home in November 2008. He believes she was coerced into providing a confession because she believed she was in custody during the questioning.

“(The woman) was in the intimidating presence of two police officers, being reasonably interpreted as custody,” Norful wrote in the motion to dismiss the statements. “While in custody, (the woman) underwent an examination designed to illicit (sic) response (interrogation) without being advised of, nor knowingly and intelligently waiving, her Fifth Amendment constitutional right under the Miranda doctrine, with the examination taking place in a police dominated atmosphere …”

Prosecutors are fighting the defense’s motions to toss out the statement and the cruelty charge. In a response written by prosecutor Susan Hardin, the woman made the statement voluntarily and at no time was she in custody of the police when the statements were recorded.

According to Hardin’s court papers, officers told the woman she was under no obligation to answer any of their questions. It was during this questioning that the woman admitted to “suspecting, observing and ignoring” the sexual acts between Hulett and her daughter, Hardin wrote.

“Neither officer exerted pressure that would undermine the Defendant’s will to resist or compelled her to speak against her will,” Hardin wrote in the court documents.

The defense and prosecution are scheduled to sit down for a motion hearing on Aug. 28, but Norful requested a delay last week so he could assemble an expert on coerced interrogations to testify, according to court papers. As of press deadline, the motion hearing was still scheduled for the late August date.

Meanwhile, Hulett remains in custody after his prison term expired in January. According to Susan Shontelle-Smith, an administrative technician with the Vermont Department of Corrections, Hulett has not found appropriate housing. Convicted child sex offenders must find housing away from schools, playgrounds and other locations depending on ordinances in certain cities and towns.

According to Shontelle-Smith, Hulett has been moved from Southern State Correctional Center in Springfield to the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, Ky. She said inmates are moved if space is needed at certain correctional facilities.