Published December 01, 2015
An aggravated murder case against an illegal immigrant in Ohio has been dropped because a judge ruled that a Spanish interpreter botched reading the man his rights during a police interview.
Assistant prosecutor Mark Wodarcyk said there wasn't sufficient evidence to go to trial after Franklin County Common Pleas Judge John Bessey ruled last month to suppress the statements that Antonio M. Martinez-Nunez made during phone interviews with Reynoldsburg police, The Columbus Dispatch reports.
"His statements were the cornerstone of our case," Wodarcyk told the newspaper. "We were left with insufficient evidence to go forward and have any reasonable chance of succeeding at trial."
Martinez-Nunez, 31, had been charged with nine counts, including aggravated murder and abuse of a corpse in the death of Armondo Casillas Castanedo, whose body was found in a parked car in the Columbus suburb of Reynoldsburg in August 2009. Police think Castanedo, a 36-year-old illegal immigrant, was killed a few days earlier in a feud over drug territory. An autopsy determined that he was asphyxiated.
Martinez-Nunez was a suspect when he was arrested by the border patrol as he tried to re-enter the country illegally in Texas in February 2010, the newspaper reported. Reynoldsburg police conducted a phone interview with Martinez-Nunez from Texas with the help of a Spanish interpreter in Reynoldsburg, but a defense interpreter found that the first interpreter gave Martinez-Nunez incomplete Miranda warnings of his rights.
During a brief phone interview on Wednesday, defense attorney Brian Rigg said he felt relieved for Martinez-Nunez, who now faces deportation.
"This doesn't happen too often," Rigg told FoxNews.com. "It's a success story. The judge and the prosecutors did the right thing."
The police interpreter failed to tell Martinez-Nunez that he could end the interview at any time, and Martinez-Nunez also made several requests to talk with his consulate that were not acknowledged, Rigg told The Associated Press Tuesday. Rigg also said that police and prosecutors were not aware of the translation problems until the second interpreter pointed them out.
Judge John Bessey, who ruled to suppress the statements, said Monday that Martinez-Nunez also didn't receive or sign a written waiver of his rights during the phone interview with police, and did not orally waive his rights before making statements that showed "he had knowledge of the killing."
Martinez-Nunez did sign a waiver of his rights after he was returned to Ohio and gave police another interview.
"My concern was, when he got to Ohio, police were building on information that was illegally obtained during the phone interview," Bessey said.
Lis Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor and a Fox News legal analyst, said she agreed with the judge's ruling in the case, but cited the "collateral damage" to relatives of Castanedo.
"The problem is that the victims' relatives in this case are the collateral damage, if you will," Wiehl said Wednesday. "But I don't disagree with the judge's ruling in that there's a reason when we have the Miranda warning procedures in place. If you flubbed it that bad, then it's ineffective Mirandization and the victim's family is the collateral damage of that sloppy work."
FoxNews.com's Joshua Rhett Miller and The Associated Press contributed to this report.