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Pree v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

October 3, 2019



          Omar F. Greene, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brooke Jackson Gasaway, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         This case is once more before us after we have twice remanded it to the circuit court to supplement the record with materials that were omitted from the official transcript. Zavier Pree appeals from his conviction by a Pulaski County Circuit Court jury of capital murder, aggravated robbery, and a firearm enhancement, for which he received, respectively, a sentence of life without parole, a concurrent term of 40 years, and a consecutive term of ten years in the Arkansas Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues that the circuit court erred when it denied his motion to suppress (a) his statements to police recorded in a police-interrogation room and (b) an alleged nonrecorded custodial statement made while police escorted him to a police car. Our jurisdiction is pursuant to Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 1-2(a)(2).

         Pree posted a Facebook status asking if anyone wanted to make quick money. The victim, Aaron Crawford, "liked" Pree's post, and the two started communicating through private messaging. Pree promised Crawford that he would pay him $300 if he gave him a ride from Jacksonville to Little Rock. On July 9, 2015, Crawford picked up Pree and drove him to the U.S. Bank ATM in North Little Rock.

         While parked at the ATM, Pree shot Mr. Crawford five times. Crawford crawled out of the car and ran across the street where witnesses called 911. North Little Rock police arrived a few minutes later. Crawford was covered in blood. Although he was in and out of consciousness, Crawford told police that he had been shot and his car was stolen.

         While processing the crime scene, officers found Crawford's cell phone. When they opened the cell phone, a Google Maps page popped up. The map showed directions from Pree's apartment in Jacksonville to the ATM at U.S. Bank. Crawford's phone also revealed Facebook messages between Pree and him. On the morning of the murder, Pree messaged Mr. Crawford and told Crawford to tell him when he arrived in Jacksonville.

         Officers went to Pree's address and saw Crawford's stolen car nearby. Subsequently, Pree and two females got into the stolen vehicle. Pree was immediately arrested.

         An in-custody interrogation was conducted by Detective Dane Pedersen immediately after Pree's arrest. Pree was read his Miranda warnings, and each right was explained to him. Pree acknowledged in writing that he was read each warning and that he understood it. Pree told the detective that he was nineteen years old and a graduate of Little Rock Central High School. Following the Miranda warnings, Pree confessed to shooting Crawford. Pree also told Detective Pedersen where to find the gun, and Detective Pedersen retrieved it from Pree's apartment. At some point during the interrogation, Crawford died.

         While Detective Pedersen was retrieving the weapon, two Little Rock detectives asked to speak to Pree about two unrelated crimes. Pree was again Mirandized. Pree told the detectives that he did not want to speak to them. The Little Rock detectives left.

         When Detective Pedersen returned with the gun, he informed Pree that he was under arrest for capital murder. Detective Gary Jones transported Pree to the Pulaski County Detention Center. During the transporting process, Pree initiated conversation with Detective Jones by asking why he was being charged with capital murder. According to Detective Jones, he explained to Pree that "through the course of the investigation and throughout the day it led the investigators to believe that he was responsible for that murder." Detective Jones further explained that the police knew how and where it had happened, but they still wanted to know why it had happened and why he had chosen Crawford as his victim. Pree told him that when he pulled up to the ATM, he got "nervous" because of Crawford's texts about a shooting in Dixie. Pree claimed that he shot Crawford one time, then crawled over the center console into the driver's seat of Crawford's car when Crawford fled. He then drove away in Crawford's car.

         Prior to trial, Pree moved to suppress his videotaped confession. In his written motion, Pree alleged that his waiver of his right to remain silent was not "knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently made." He further asserted that the State could not prove that the statement he gave to Detective Pedersen was voluntary because the police employed coercion, intimidation, and deception to obtain his confession. These police tactics, in addition to his young age (nineteen), lack of experience with the criminal-justice system, and his being under the influence of drugs (marijuana, Xanax, and hydrocodone) at the time of the interview establishes that waiver was infirm. Regarding "deception," Pree specifically cited Detective Pedersen's claim that police had video of the murder; and his telling Pree that he was being interviewed about a "battery," which due to his inexperience, misled Pree into thinking it was equivalent to his fight at school when he was a juvenile. Pree also asserted that Detective Pedersen deceived him by downplaying the Miranda warnings by telling Pree that his signature meant he "understood" the rights, not that he was waiving them and by substituting the phrase "can be used" in place of "can and will be used" with regard to the potential jeopardy that he faced by giving incriminating information.

         Additionally, Pree claimed the video demonstrated that he was overwhelmed by the situation--that he had the impression he could go home; he appeared confused or not fully able to comprehend some of the officers' statements and questions; and he "progressed from nervousness and some confusion to a state of panic during the interrogation." In the written motion to suppress, Pree's statement to Detective Jones was not mentioned. In a supplemental motion to suppress, Pree further challenged the way Detective Pedersen executed Miranda warnings, noting that Detective Pedersen told him they were just going to "talk" and that he was "not going to be adversarial." Pree asserted that Detective Pedersen effectively failed to "warn" him as required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 439 (1966), which charged police with making a suspect "more acutely aware that he is faced with ...

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