A Cloquet homicide suspect's alleged incriminating remark to a police officer was made freely and voluntarily, a judge ruled, allowing it to remain admissible in court.

Judge Jill Eichenwald denied a defense motion to suppress the statement reportedly given by Sheldon James Thompson in the back of an ambulance after his arrest following a short manhunt March 6, 2020.

Thompson, who is accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend, Jackie Ann Defoe, 27, and her son, Kevin Shabaiash Jr., 20 months, allegedly told an officer: "I messed up. I'm going away for a long time."

Eichenwald, at a hearing Wednesday, also set a potential three-week jury trial to begin May 16 in State District Court in Carlton. Thompson, 34, faces life imprisonment without parole if convicted of premeditated murder.

Tammy Suomi of Duluth holds a sign with photos of her daughter, Jackie Defoe, and grandson, Kevin Shabaiash Jr., during a silent protest organized by the group "Justice for Jackie" outside the Carlton County Courthouse on Jan. 19, 2021. 
Clint Austin / File / News Tribune
Tammy Suomi of Duluth holds a sign with photos of her daughter, Jackie Defoe, and grandson, Kevin Shabaiash Jr., during a silent protest organized by the group "Justice for Jackie" outside the Carlton County Courthouse on Jan. 19, 2021. Clint Austin / File / News Tribune

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The statement was the last major pretrial issue for the judge to consider after she recently upheld the grand jury indictment against Thomspon and declined to move his trial out of Carlton County.

Former Fond du Lac police officer Nils Hansen testified at a Sept. 1 hearing that the defendant had made the comment after he was located and arrested in the woods off Mission Road, on the reservation east of Cloquet.

Hansen, now a Carlton County sheriff's deputy, told the court that Thompson was being checked for possible hypothermia, as he had spent several hours in the chilly woods and shed a heavier winter coat. The officer testified that Thompson was attempting to engage in conversation, but he advised the suspect "to focus on receiving medical attention at that time."

PREVIOUSLY: Suspect in Cloquet killings allegedly told officer 'I messed up'

Hansen said he did not pose any questions to the defendant, who spontaneously made the comment before being medically cleared and taken to the police station. The statement was not recorded, as the officer said his wireless microphone was out of range from the receiver in his squad car.

Defense attorney Steve Bergeson contended that the utterance was collected in violation of his client's constitutional rights, as he was under arrest and receiving medical care but had not been read a Miranda warning.

Eichenwald disagreed in a six-page order Friday, ruling that Hansen's direction to focus on medical treatment was not improper and that Thompson's alleged incriminating remark was not "a foreseeable response."

"While in custody, (Thompson) was not being subjected to an interrogation, his physical needs were being met, he was not in distress, and none of officer Hansen's actions could be characterized as coercive, manipulated or overpowering, much less to a degree that overborn his will," the judge wrote. "These are far less strenuous circumstances compared to situations where courts have found statements to be voluntary."

Eichenwald added that there was nothing in the record to indicate that Thompson actually suffered from hypothermia or that his condition would have impacted his ability to "make good choices or decisions."

PREVIOUSLY: Judge upholds Cloquet homicide indictment, keeps trial in Carlton County

Authorities said the victims' bodies were discovered March 7 after a "concerned citizen" told police that Thompson made statements indicating he had killed Defoe and her child.

Officers found the victims' bodies in separate bedrooms at the residence, 1620 Locke Lane, Cloquet. They were concealed under blankets and clothing, and both doors had been screwed shut, according to court documents. Defoe, who was 13 weeks pregnant, had been stabbed several dozen times, while Kevin died from blunt-force injuries, an autopsy found.

Police said the investigation led to "a number of witnesses" who reported that Thompson had told them that he killed the mother and son. The killings are alleged to have occurred on or around March 5.

As of Wednesday, Bergeson had not given the court notice of any specific defenses he may raise at trial. But the attorney suggested the case does not appear likely to settle, telling the judge: "Based on our conversations, I would surmise that this will be a trial."

Thompson is charged with three counts of premeditated first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree murder while committing domestic abuse with a past pattern of domestic abuse and three counts of intentional second-degree murder. He remains in the Carlton County Jail on $1 million bail.