PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court has tossed the conviction of a man who was 19 when prosecutors said he used a sledgehammer to bludgeon to death his cousin’s great-grandmother.
The high court last week reversed Micus Ward’s aggravated murder and murder convictions, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. The court found the prosecution didn’t prove that Ward made a “knowing, intelligent and voluntary” waiver of his right to refrain from self-incrimination when detectives interrogated him and prosecutors used those statements to incriminate him before a Washington County jury.
Ward was sentenced in 2016 to “true life” — meaning he had no chance of ever getting out — for the 2013 killing of 71-year-old Jacqueline Bell. Authorities said Bell was asleep in her Cedar Mill home when Ward hit her with the sledgehammer and her 17-year-old great grandson — Ward’s cousin from another side of the family — helped overpower her.
A jury found the cousin, Joda Cain, guilty of manslaughter and sentenced the teen to 10 years in prison.
Before the killing, Cain moved from Kansas City, Missouri, to live with Bell and attend Sunset High School. After the killing, police said the duo drove off in Bell’s Lexus sedan with her purse and jewelry. Police stopped them in eastern Oregon, and Ward ran from the car but was quickly apprehended.
Once at the Union County jail, officers asked Ward: “Going to visit with us here today at all?”, according to the Supreme Court summary of the case. Ward answered “No.” The officers then repeated Miranda warnings before interrogating Ward.
Days later, Washington County detectives arrived and read Ward his Miranda rights, according to the summary. He said he understood them and then detectives interrogated him. During trial, Washington County Circuit Judge Rick Knapp didn’t let prosecutors use statements from the first interrogation, but statements from the second interrogation were allowed.
Thursday, in a majority opinion written by Justice Meagan Flynn, the Supreme Court found that the prosecution wasn’t able to prove Ward had adequately waived his rights before speaking to detectives during the second interrogation.
Ward’s case will be sent back to Washington County Circuit for a new trial.