TRENTON, N.J. (TCD) -- The Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed an appellate court’s ruling that said a man did not knowingly confess to killing his young neighbor, which would have sent him back to court for a retrial after he pleaded guilty.
According to the high court’s opinion, the appellate court previously ruled that Andreas Erazo’s confession to killing Abbiegail Smith, which was "obtained during a second interview, five hours after his initial 90-minute interview, was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary, and should have been suppressed."
The Supreme Court, however, disagreed and argued Erazo was not actually in custody when he admitted to the slaying.
Abbiegail’s mother reported her missing to the Keansburg Police Department on the night of July 12, 2017. Police began looking into the girl’s disappearance and contacted the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office to conduct a joint investigation.
The next morning, detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Forensic and Technical Services Bureau searched the backyard of Abbiegail’s apartment complex on Hancock Street and found "an object wrapped up in what appeared to be a blanket or comforter up on a rear roof," which turned out to be Abbiegail’s body.
The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office said the autopsy showed Abbiegail had been stabbed and sexually assaulted.
Erazo lived upstairs from Abbiegail and her family.
According to the Supreme Court’s opinion, Erazo went to the Keansburg Police station to provide a witness statement. Erazo said he knew Abbiegail was missing and he "agreed to provide any information he had that could help."
The detectives reportedly did not read Erazo his Miranda rights because "they believed they were taking a witness statement," and they did not record the interview, either.
Erazo talked with detectives for an hour and a half and said he never saw her the day she went missing.
Another neighbor reportedly told police they saw Abbiegail go into Erazo’s apartment. Detectives then identified Erazo as a suspect and moved him to another interview room with recording capabilities.
The opinion says, "At no time between the interview on the second floor and the recorded interview on the first floor did officers restrain the defendant or discuss the investigation."
Someone who lives with Erazo told police that the futon cover Abbiegail was found in belonged to Erazo.
After leaving Erazo in the interview room for several hours, detectives reportedly read him his Miranda rights and Erazo waived them, meaning he agreed to talk.
Erazo told police he was in the kitchen when Abbiegail "unexpectedly entered through the unlocked front door," and he was worried it could have been an intruder. He "made a motion with his knife, accidentally stabbing [Abbiegail] in the throat."
He turned on the light and saw her "struggling like a 'fish out of water' until she stopped moving."
The document says Erazo tried to clean up the blood, then wrapped her body with computer wires and left her outside.
Erazo claimed he "blacked out" and "could not remember much" except for Abbiegail in the mattress cover.
The detectives told Erazo that Abbiegail’s pants and underwear were missing, and they asked if he had sex with Abbiegail after her death.
He reportedly said, "No. Not after," then added later, "The only thing that I know would make me capable of [the sexual assault] is because I’ve been off my meds for months."
Erazo later appealed the sentence and the appeals court determined his "liberty was restrained" while at the police station.
The appellate court said the "inconsistencies between defendant’s first and second interviews were used to obtain his confession, requiring suppression of defendant’s statements from the second interview."
The Supreme Court, however, argued Erazo "received and understood his Miranda rights."
The opinion states, "In sum, defendant voluntarily went to the police station to give a witness statement. At the police station, defendant was interviewed twice. During his first interview, defendant was not in custody and thus not yet owed Miranda warnings."
Following the news of the Supreme Court's decision, the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office said, "We at MCPO are collectively elated over the opinion issued yesterday by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled to restore the previously reversed conviction of a Keansburg man who sexually assaulted and murdered an 11-year-old girl in 2017."