Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Lisa Fair McEvers, Judge.
Tristan Jones Van de Streek, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.
Benjamin C. Pulkrabek, Mandan, ND, for defendant and appellant.
Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., Carol Ronning Kapsner, Dale V. Sandstrom, Daniel J. Crothers, Gail Hagerty, D.J. Opinion of the Court by VandeWalle, Chief Justice. The Honorable Gail Hagerty, D.J., sitting in place of McEvers, J., disqualified.
VandeWalle, Chief Justice.
[¶1] Ronald William Rogers Jr. appealed from a criminal judgment entered by the district court after he conditionally pled guilty to murder and willful disturbance of a dead body. We affirm, concluding Rogers was not in police custody when he confessed to the crimes and that his confession was not involuntary.
[¶2] At approximately 10:30 p.m. on February 19, 2013, Fargo Police responded to a 911 call reporting an alleged suicide. The caller, Ronald William Rogers Jr., reported his wife committed suicide in their South Fargo home. When officers arrived at the scene they discovered the dead body of Elizabeth Rogers lying on the floor near an upstairs bedroom. The victim appeared to have suffered a single gunshot wound to the head. The victim was also holding a semi-automatic handgun in her right hand.
[¶3] Rogers was at home when officers arrived. Rogers gave officers verbal consent to search the home. Shortly thereafter, Rogers appeared to suffer a panic attack, and he was taken to Essentia Hospital in Fargo. Officers later obtained a search warrant and searched the home.
[¶4] While at Essentia Hospital, Rogers was questioned by Detective Ysteboe. The interview was recorded. Rogers told the detective that he and Elizabeth had been drinking and had an argument. Rogers stated he went to bed and Elizabeth came into the bedroom with a gun and shot over his head twice. Rogers stated Elizabeth shot herself before he was able to grab her. Rogers indicated Elizabeth held the gun in her right hand, raised the weapon to the right side of her head and fired the weapon. Rogers was not allowed to return to his residence that evening, and instead stayed the night at the Fargo Days Inn.
[¶5] On the morning of February 21, staff at the Days Inn contacted the Fargo Police and requested officers to conduct a welfare check on an intoxicated man in the hotel lobby. Officer Ronning responded to the call and made contact with Rogers,
who appeared intoxicated and emotionally distraught. Officer Ronning was not involved in the underlying suicide investigation. Rogers made a comment that Officer Ronning considered a suicidal threat. As a result of the threat, Officer Ronning brought Rogers back to Essentia Hospital. Officer Ronning completed a 72-hour mental health evaluation form so that medical staff could see Rogers. Rogers was then turned over to hospital staff and placed under a medical hold by Essentia.
[¶6] Later in the afternoon, Rogers was discharged from Essentia and transferred by ambulance to Prairie St. John's Hospital in Fargo. Carrie Avery, the House Charge Supervisor at Prairie St. John's, testified at the suppression hearing that Rogers was transported by ambulance to Prairie St. John's after doctors at Essentia referred him to Prairie's Needs Assessment Department. Prairie assessed Rogers based on his medical documentation, laboratory results, and other pertinent information. Following the assessment, Prairie conducted a three-way consultation between Prairie's medical doctor, a licensed addiction counselor, and the referring doctor from Essentia. Law enforcement was not involved in any discussion or decision to discharge Rogers from Essentia or admit him to Prairie. Avery testified Prairie does not honor medical holds placed on individuals by law enforcement; the doctor makes the actual decision whether or not the hold continues.
[¶7] Elizabeth's autopsy was also conducted on February 21. The autopsy revealed the bullet entrance wound was on the left side of Elizabeth's head and not the right side as Rogers previously indicated. A second search warrant was executed and officers collected additional information from the scene of the shooting. At that point, the suicide investigation turned into a murder investigation.
[¶8] At about 9:20 p.m. that evening, Rogers, who was under medical hold at Prairie St. John's, called the Fargo Police Department and attempted to speak with a supervising officer. A supervising officer was unavailable at the time, so Rogers spoke with Lieutenant Renner. Rogers inquired as to the results of his ...