State v. Larson

State v. Larson, 2015 MT 271 (Sept. 15, 2015) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in denying Larson’s motion to suppress statements made in police custody; and (2) whether Larson’s counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to present the video recording of the police interview at the suppression hearing.

Short Answer: (1) No; and (2) no.


Facts: Susie Casey was found dead in the Yellowstone River in the spring of 2008, several weeks after her family reported her missing. An autopsy determined she had died of strangulation and then been put in the water.

Larson and Susie married in 1993. Susie filed for divorce in 1997, which became final in February 1998. Larson did not want the divorce, and had no contact with the children for several years after the marriage ended.

Susie remarried in 1998, and had two daughters with her husband, Ted Casey. A few months later, Larson entered the Caseys’ property twice, both times wearing gloves. He was arrested and pled guilty to criminal trespass, criminal mischief, and stalking.

Susie and Ted separated in November 2007, and Susie moved with the children into an apartment in Glendive. She began allowing Larson to see the children, and their daily conversations led Larson to believe they might renew their relationship. When Susie began dating Brad, a married man, in early 2008, Larson contacted Brad’s wife and Susie’s ex-husband, Ted, anonymously.

In April 2008, Brad and Susie drove out near the Yellowstone River and spent several hours there. Brad estimated they left and returned to Glendive around 4:30-5:00 a.m. on April 12, 2008. They arrived at Susie’s apartment around 5:00-5:30 a.m., and parked on the street for about 25 minutes. Susie left Brad’s truck and walked across the street to her apartment. Brad did not wait to see Susie go inside. This was the last time Susie was seen alive.

She was reported missing by her children that day. The police investigated, and found video surveillance near Susie’s apartment confirming Brad’s story, drag marks, and inconsistencies in Larson’s narrative of events. Nonetheless, police did not charge Larson for four years after Susie’s death.

The police traveled to Arizona in 2012 to interview Larson, who refused to waive his Miranda rights while also continuing to answer questions and state he does not need counsel.

Larson moved to suppress statements made in the interview. The district court received a transcript of the interview into evidence. Neither party introduced a video of the interview. The transcript was incorrectly transcribed, omitting Larson’s clearest invocation of his right to counsel.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court denied the motion to suppress on the basis that Larson had not unambiguously invoked his right to counsel or his right to remain silent. The jury found Larson guilty of deliberate homicide and he was sentenced to 100 years in prison, with a consecutive 10-year sentence for tampering. Larson appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) The Court determines that even if Larson s correct that police interrogated him after he invoked his right to counsel, he admitted nothing during he interview. Even if his words are assumed to create an inference of guilt, there was ample evidence proving Larson’s guilt. The Court holds there was no reasonable possibility that admission of the 2012 interview contributed to Larson’s conviction.

(2) Having already determined that the verdict would have been no different had the 2012 interview been suppressed, Larson is unable to prove the second prong of the Strickland test, prejudice.