By The Associated Press
JACKSON — A federal court panel has upheld a ruling by a Mississippi federal judge that law enforcement officers did nothing unconstitutional in the handling of Tyler Edmonds’ confession in 2003.
Edmonds and his mother, Sharon Clay, sued Oktibbeha County in 2009, saying Edmonds was wrongfully convicted of murder “based on an alleged coerced confession taken by law enforcement officers.”
Judge Jerry E. Smith, writing Monday for a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Edmonds’ confession was voluntary.
Smith said Edmonds’ “separation from his mother, his desire to please adults, and his inexperience with the criminal justice system all weigh against voluntariness, his express desire to help his sister decides the issue.”
Edmonds, who was 14 at the time, was arrested May 12, 2003, and accused in the death of Joey Fulgham, who was married to Edmonds’ half-sister, Kristi Fulgham.
His confession reportedly came after Edmonds and his mother were separated, and then Kristi told him to “tell them” what he had done. Edmonds was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but a second trial jury acquitted him.
Kristi Fulgham is serving a life sentence for her role in the killing.
The Mississippi federal judge said in 2010 that Edmonds’ rights were not violated by law enforcement. He also rejected Clay’s claim she had the right to be present during Edmonds’ interrogation.
Smith said Edmonds appeared to have desired the separation “so that he could falsely confess without triggering the eventual emotional downpour.”
“Although some circumstances in this case may indicate susceptibility to police coercion, their relevance pales beside Edmonds’s stated desire to help his sister. Improper police tactics did not implant that desire. In all likelihood, Fulgham’s manipulation did.
“There is no evidence that, absent Edmonds’ resolve to reduce Fulgham’s punishment, the deputies’ interrogation tactics would have produced a confession. Fulgham may have used her brother’s love to make him lie on her behalf, but there is no evidence that the deputies knew of her plan,” Smith wrote.