Suspect in 1987 Virginia killing seeks to have confession thrown out
Defense attorneys for the Virginia man accused of killing an elderly woman nearly three decades ago are seeking to have his confession tossed from court, arguing that it was illegally obtained through false promises and threats by law enforcement.
Bruce Wayne Cameron, 45, is charged with intentional second-degree murder in the death of 83-year-old Leona Mary Maslowski, who was found beaten, stabbed and strangled in her Virginia home in 1987.
Cameron allegedly admitted to authorities last June that he was intoxicated and in search of alcohol when he encountered Maslowski, leading to the fatal assault. Investigators had been pursuing the cold case after new forensic testing pointed to Cameron as a potential suspect, according to court documents.
Elizabeth Polling, a public defender for Cameron, argued in court documents that her client's statements were coerced during interviews with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Virginia Police Department.
Cameron denied involvement in Maslowski's death in an April 2015 interview; the alleged confession came on June 2, 2015, and he was arrested the following day on a warrant.
Polling alleged that Cameron was falsely led to believe that the case would remain in juvenile court, where he would face lighter sanctions, due to the fact that he was only 16 at the time of Maslowski's death.
Cameron, instead, was charged in district court as an adult. Under Minnesota law, the juvenile court loses jurisdiction once the defendant turns 21.
Court documents indicate that there was much discussion in the two interviews about whether Cameron would be tried as a juvenile or an adult.
On one instance, according to the documents, BCA Special Agent Paul Gherardi told Cameron: "We're willing to work with you. Now you were 16 at the time, 1987. We have to go with the laws on the books back in 1987 and your age for this case."
"Their statements were specifically tailored as to persuade Mr. Cameron that he will be treated as a juvenile offender rather than to be exposed to the grave penalties of an adult murder charge," Polling wrote in a memorandum.
St. Louis County prosecutor Gary Bjorklund argued that there was nothing improper or misleading about the investigators' handling of the interviews.
"The investigator correctly told Defendant that the laws in effect in 1987 apply to this case," Bjorklund wrote. "A review of the laws clearly reflect that the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines had presumptive sentences which were significantly shorter than the laws in effect today."
A second-degree murder conviction carries a statutory maximum of 40 years in prison.
Cameron allegedly told police in the June interview that he was attending a party in the apartment above Maslowski's residence when he entered her residence, "most likely drunk" and in search of alcohol.
Cameron allegedly told investigators that he was confronted by Maslowski and that he punched her, struck her in the head with a blunt object and possibly strangled her. He denied stabbing her.
The statement came after Cameron was told that investigators had determined that a palm print found on a door in Maslowski's apartment belonged to him. Authorities recovered the palm print during the initial investigation, but forensic technology only recently identified Cameron as a potential match.
Polling argued that Cameron was led to believe that the forensic technology was enough to implicate him in Maslowski's murder, and that confessing was the only way to keep his case in juvenile court — and out of prison.
"Their statements were of the character that would convince an innocent person to confess," Polling wrote, "the result of which was a coerced confession from Mr. Cameron that was not voluntarily given."
Bjorklund argued that there is no evidence that Cameron actually believed his case would remain in juvenile court by confessing.
"There is nothing in the record to suggest that this promise would reasonably result in a 44-year-old man with a prior felony adult record to believe that this case would be kept in juvenile court and was so coercive in nature that it would cause an innocent man to confess to a murder he did not commit," he wrote.
Sixth Judicial District Judge David Ackerson took the issue under advisement this week and is expected to issue a written order at a later date.
A trial date has not been set for Cameron, who remains jailed on $1 million bail.