EASTON, Pa. - A Northampton County judge has refused to suppress statements made to police by the suspect in the deadly 2009 Easton Café shooting.
The judge also rejected the defense’s request to take the death penalty off the table and find a new venue for the homicide trial that’s slated for February 2019.
Jacob Holmes Jr. is accused in the fatal shooting of Miguel Aponte inside the Easton Café in March 2009. Authorities arrested the nephew of boxing legend, Larry Holmes, in August 2017 after the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office had empaneled a grand jury to investigate the homicide.
Investigators have alleged that the shooting stems from a 2006 altercation between Holmes and Aponte outside a Wilson Borough strip club.
Defense attorney Brian Monahan asked Northampton County Judge Michael Koury to suppress statements Holmes allegedly made to an Easton police lieutenant investigating the case and a detective who processed Holmes after his arrest.
Darren Snyder, a detective with the Easton Police Department, testified before Koury last month that he processed Holmes at police headquarters after his arrest in Bethlehem Township on Aug. 15, 2017. Snyder said he fingerprinted and photographed Holmes before taking him to central booking at the county prison.
Under questioning by First Deputy District Attorney Terry Houck, Snyder testified that Holmes told him during processing, “I had nothing to do with it. It was over some street (expletive.)” Snyder said no one else was with him and Holmes in police headquarters at the time.
Monahan questioned whether Snyder told Holmes that he was being charged with homicide. Snyder testified that he didn’t speak with Holmes about the pending charges.
When asked why Holmes would then say what he did, Snyder responded that he didn’t know.
“He just said it,” Snyder testified.
Easton police Lt. Matthew Gerould was the arresting officer in the Holmes case. He testified that he contacted Holmes in April 2010 to discuss possible threats made against him. The two spoke briefly the following day, and Gerould said he told Holmes he’d like to speak with him regarding the rumored threats and the 2009 fatal Easton Café shooting.
Gerould testified that Holmes was scheduled for a preliminary hearing in an unrelated case less than two weeks after speaking with him on the phone. Gerould said he arrived at the district judge’s office about 15 minutes before Holmes’ hearing and asked if he’d be willing to talk.
Holmes reportedly agreed to speak briefly with the lieutenant in a conference room. In response to questioning by Houck, Gerould said the two spoke for less than 10 minutes and that Holmes was free to leave at any time.
Holmes reportedly said that he had heard about the Easton Café shooting, but that he had been at home all night. Gerould testified that Holmes acknowledged knowing Barndt but said he neither saw him, nor called him that night.
In August 2017, Easton police set up surveillance at Holmes’ employer off Route 191 and took him into custody without incident.
Gerould testified that he told the suspect that police had a warrant for his arrest and that he was being arrested for homicide. Holmes allegedly said he couldn’t believe that he was being arrested and that Gerould knew he didn’t do it.
Gerould said Holmes wasn’t told he was being arrested for the Easton Café shooting.
The defense argued that any statements made by Holmes should be suppressed as a violation of his Miranda rights.
The judge found that Holmes was not in custody during the brief April 2010 discussion with Gerould, nor was he told that he was a suspect in Aponte’s death, according to the judge’s ruling. Aponte was free to leave at any time as he stood next to an unsecured conference room door, while Gerould sat at a table, the judge found.
As for the comment Holmes reportedly made to Gerould immediately following his arrest, the judge found that the suspect was in custody. But there is nothing prohibiting police from informing a suspect of the charges against, and Holmes was not being interrogated at the time, according to the ruling.
And the judge found that any comments Holmes made to Snyder were not elicited by the detective who was merely processing the suspect.
The defense asked for a change of venue, arguing local media coverage has been “sustained, pervasive and inflammatory,” making it difficult to seat a fair and impartial jury from Northampton County. Monahan in his motion cited several media reports and comments made by prosecutors to the press.
While the defense highlighted the “most inflammatory portions” of the press coverage, the reporting has been “factual and objective in nature,” according to the judge.
And while coverage included the guilty plea of Holmes’ co-defendant and his grand jury testimony implicating Holmes, no reports referenced any kind of confession attributed to Holmes, the judge wrote in his decision.
Holmes’ trial is not a “truly extraordinary” case and his relationship to a former heavyweight boxing champ does not raise his status to that of a “public figure,” according to the ruling.
Prosecutors filed notice to seek the death penalty based on two aggravating circumstances: that the shooting created a grave risk to others and that it was committed while perpetrating another felony, specifically carrying a firearm without a license.
The judge ruled that prosecutors have provided some evidence that Holmes allegedly fired at Aponte, who was surrounded by at least five other patrons.
The judge ruled on and denied a handful of other defense motions, including allowing the use of hearsay testimony during the preliminary hearing and whether prosecutors made their prima facie case allowing the matter to go on to county court.
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