Whether a murder suspect’s confession to police can be used against him in court is up for debate in Uintah County.
Jose Eduardo Leiva-Perez, 34, is charged in 8th District Court with first-degree felony murder for the Jan. 7 death of his cousin, 39-year-old David Urrutia.
On Tuesday, Judge Clark McClellan filed his findings of fact from a November suppression hearing, where Leiva-Perez’s attorney argued that his confession to police should be thrown out because police used coercion or deception to obtain the statement, and that Leiva-Perez did not receive a proper advisement of his Miranda rights.
Prosecutors have accused Leiva-Perez of killing his cousin inside the victim’s camp trailer in Fort Duchesne. Deputies found Urrutia’s body inside the trailer at the Country Village Mobile Home Park on Jan. 7, after Urrutia’s sister had called 911 and asked them to check on the man.
The sister told a detective that Leiva-Perez had called another family member and said that three men had come to the trailer and beat Urrutia with a baseball bat, and that Leiva-Perez had fled for his life in Urrutia’s car, according to the charges.
The medical examiner concluded that Urrutia had died from blunt force trauma to the head.
On Feb. 6, Leiva-Perez was interviewed by police, and his Miranda rights were verbally summarized to him by an FBI agent acting as a Spanish interpreter. His attorney argued that he was never given a written copy of his rights, and the agent did not read the Miranda rights verbatim.
However, Leiva-Perez still agreed to talk with the officers.
In that interview, Leiva-Perez told police an account that “implicated three other people in the death of his cousin,” according to the judge’s findings. But the police told the man that they didn’t believe him, and pressed him to tell the truth.
“They can work with you if you say the truth,” FBI Agent Dave Ryan told the man. “...You can say the truth, explain what happened and they can work with you when the time comes to see a judge. It will be less charges.”
According to McClellan, Leiva-Perez testified during the November suppression hearing that he believed if he did not admit to being involved in his cousin’s death, he would get a longer sentence.
Eventually, Leiva-Perez gave another statement to police, saying that he killed Urrutia in self-defense, after his cousin pulled a gun on him because he was not paying his share of the expenses.
“I did it in self-defense,” Leiva-Perez said in a written statement. “He was going to kill me. I only defended myself.”
According to police, there were no signs of a struggle and blood spatter patterns in the trailer indicated Urrutia was lying on the bed when he was hit. The medical examiner found no defensive wounds on Urrutia’s body, and concluded he would not have been aware of the pending lethal attack.
McClellan has not yet ruled on whether either Leiva-Perez’s written or oral confession can be used against him.