Police officers in Todd County were so over-the-line in their questioning of Garrett Thomas Dye in connection with the beating death of his 9-year-old sister, that the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously voted to overturn Dye’s conviction for the murder. That decisions does not necessarily mean Dye, who is serving 50 years in prison, will automatically be freed. But it does mean that Dye will receive a new trial.
Investigators repeatedly threatened Dye, then 17, with the prospect of execution and being sexually assaulted in prison unless he admitted to the beating death of his sister, Amy Dye. Their tactics resulted in a coerced confession, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled. In addition to granting a new trial for Dye, the state’s highest court ordered a trial court to determine if evidence collected based on the statements should be allowed at the trial.
“Not only did the officer erroneously convey that (Dye) was death-eligible, but also that he was certain to receive a death sentence unless he confessed to his sister’s murder,” Justice Will T. Scott wrote. “We hold that repeatedly threatening a 17-year-old with the death penalty is objectively coercive.”
The impact of the ruling extends beyond this one case by placing limits on what investigators may say to teenaged suspects during an interrogation.
Scott also concluded four officers made “inappropriate allusions” to prison violence and rape throughout the interrogation. “Everybody’s gonna forget about you until you get to Eddyville then they’ll remind you of what happened. Every day they’ll remind you,” an officer told Dye.
“We will not feign ignorance to the fact that the officers were alluding to prison violence and-or rape and that is precisely how (Dye) understood these comments,” Scott wrote.
The girl’s death drew the attention of state lawmakers. Records in the case were eventually released showing social workers either ignored or dismissed allegations of abuse and neglect against the child.
Amy Dye went missing Feb. 4, 2011, after spending the afternoon with her brother shoveling gravel. Police found the body early the next morning in a thicket about 100 yards from the Dye home. Investigators confiscated shovels, clothes, shoes and took a DNA swab from Garrett Dye.
Dye’s father told officers he didn’t want the teen questioned without an attorney present and he was released. Police arrested Dye the next day and charged him in the slaying.
During four hours of interrogation, police repeatedly told Dye he would be executed for killing his sister with a jack handle. But Dye could not have been executed under a U.S. Supreme Court decision barring the death penalty for anyone under 18 at the time of a crime. The officers also didn’t disclose that Dye couldn’t have received a death sentence because there were no aggravating factors to the slaying, which is required under Kentucky law to bring a capital case.
The officers repeatedly told Dye he would be sexually assaulted and possibly beaten in prison if he went to death row at the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville. Dye at one point said he wanted to speak with a lawyer. Officers later told Dye if he chose to speak with a lawyer before talking to them, he would lose an opportunity to tell the truth.
Those threats and omissions were enough to overcome Dye’s will and ability to make a rational decision about whether to talk to investigators, Scott wrote. Based on Dye’s statement, officers returned to the house and seized more evidence, including shovels and other yard working equipment. The admissibility of those materials at trial should be decided by a judge, Scott wrote.
Whether Garrett Thomas Dye killed his sister is not the issue here. It is whether police used improper tactics to coerce a confession. Every member of the Kentucky Supreme Court is convinced they did. Because of their actions, Dye will get a new trial. He deserves one.