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State v. Rogers

Supreme Court of South Dakota

November 22, 2016

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
JAMES LEWIS ROGERS, JR., Defendant and Appellant.

          ARGUED NOVEMBER 7, 2016


          MARTY J. JACKLEY Attorney General ANN C. MEYER Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

          PAUL EISENBRAUN ELLERY GREY of Grey & Eisenbraun Rapid City, South Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellant.


         [¶1.] A jury convicted James Rogers of first-degree murder. The circuit court sentenced him to life imprisonment without parole. On appeal, Rogers asserts that the court erred by failing to suppress evidence that was obtained without a warrant and failing to suppress statements Rogers made prior to law enforcement informing him of his Miranda rights. We affirm.


         [¶2.] On August 17, 2015, Deborah Burrows called the Lead Police Department and asked that an officer come to her home. The Department assigned Officer Jandt to answer the call. When Officer Jandt arrived at Deborah's house, he activated a tape recorder. Deborah reported that her ex-husband, Ken Burrows, had informed her that someone, later identified as James Rogers, wanted help getting rid of a body. Ken told Deborah that Rogers' girlfriend was the victim and that her body was in a suitcase in the apartment. Ken observed blood in the kitchen of Roger's apartment. Deborah reported that Ken was still in her home, and Officer Jandt asked to speak directly with Ken.

         [¶3.] Ken Burrows came outside to speak with Officer Jandt. He informed Officer Jandt that Rogers told Ken that Rogers had killed Caitlin Walsh. Rogers lived in apartment 303 of the Galena Street Apartments, where he still had Walsh's body in a suitcase that was wrapped in plastic. Rogers wanted Ken's help disposing of the body, but Ken refused, fearing that he would be an accessory to murder. Ken had been in the apartment just fifteen minutes prior. Rogers had been crying, and there was blood on the floor of the apartment. Ken relayed that he had grabbed the suitcase in an attempt to lift it and that it was heavy. Rogers told Ken that Walsh barely fit inside. Rogers also told Ken that he had beaten and stabbed Walsh. Ken told Officer Jandt several times that he was not sure if Rogers was telling him the truth or if the whole thing was a hoax. He never saw a body, but he wanted police to look into the situation immediately.

         [¶4.] Officer Jandt contacted the Lead Chief of Police, John Wainman, and asked Chief Wainman to meet him in person at the Galena Street Apartments where Rogers lived. The two met at the rear entrance, and Officer Jandt relayed what the Burrows had reported. Chief Wainman knew of Rogers and Walsh's relationship and that it was volatile. The two entered the third floor of the apartment complex. As they walked down the hall towards apartment 303, they heard a male subject, later identified as Rogers, crying. The crying became louder the closer the officers moved towards apartment 303. They also heard Rogers saying "I'm sorry." Hearing that, the officers thought that someone else may be in the apartment. They believed it was possible that Walsh was still alive or that Rogers may be injured. They knocked on the door to apartment 303, asking if Rogers was okay and that he open the door. The officers asked Rogers several times to open the door. Rogers did not open the door, and the crying stopped. When Rogers went silent, Chief Wainman attempted to forcibly open the door. Chief Wainman contacted the property manager for a key to the apartment, but she was out of town and unable to obtain a key for him. Therefore, he directed Officer Jandt to get tools from one of their police vehicles. Chief Wainman began taking the molding off of the door.

         [¶5.] Eventually, Rogers came to the door and unlocked it. When he did so, Chief Wainman asked him multiple times to come outside. Rogers did not comply, and Chief Wainman pulled him from the apartment and asked Rogers what he had done. Rogers responded that he "did something very wrong." Chief Wainman entered the apartment and could detect the smell of decomposition, but did not see a suitcase. He came back to the hallway and asked Rogers where Walsh was. Rogers indicated that she was "in the closet." Chief Wainman entered the apartment a second time and opened the closet. At that point, he discerned that the strong odor of decomposition was coming from the closet. He also saw the suitcase and that there was liquid oozing out of it and onto the carpet. Upon pulling on the suitcase, he noted that it contained something heavy, consistent with a body. He took a picture of the suitcase, left the apartment, and directed Officer Jandt to take Rogers to the Lawrence County Jail.

         [¶6.] Chief Wainman asked another officer of the Lead Police Department to come to the scene and take pictures. After additional pictures were taken, officers left the apartment and requested assistance from other law enforcement agencies. Approximately five hours later, law enforcement obtained a search warrant and returned to the apartment to retrieve the suitcase. The remains of Caitlin Walsh were found inside the suitcase.

         [¶7.] At the Lawrence County Sherriff's Office, law enforcement interviewed Rogers. Before officers were able to read Roger his Miranda rights, Rogers stated "I never meant to hurt her." As Agent Garland was reading a Miranda warning to Rogers, Rogers interrupted and stated, "I'll tell you anything you want to know." In response, Agent Garland started reading the Miranda warnings from the beginning. At the end of the advisement, Agent Garland asked Rogers: "Do you understand those rights James?" Rogers replied, "I think so, yes." For a second time, Agent Garland asked, "Do you understand those rights?" This time, Rogers replied, "Yes, sir." Agent Garland then asked, "Keeping those rights in mind, is it okay if [another officer] and I ask you some questions?" Again, Rogers replied, "Yes." Law enforcement proceeded to question Rogers, and Rogers admitted to stabbing Walsh with a machete.

         [¶8.] Prior to trial, Rogers moved to suppress all evidence obtained from the search of his apartment because law enforcement had entered and searched his apartment without first obtaining a search warrant. Rogers also moved to suppress the statements made by him that he had done "something very wrong" and that Walsh was "in the closet." The circuit court denied Rogers' motion, concluding that exigent circumstances existed justifying the warrantless search and that the community caretaker doctrine applied. It also found that suppression of Rogers' statements was not warranted because Rogers was not in custody when he made his statements. The case proceeded to trial, and a jury found Rogers guilty of first-degree murder. The court sentenced Rogers to life imprisonment without parole. Rogers appeals the circuit court's denial of his motion to suppress. In this appeal, he contends ...

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