Evansville, Kentucky police face trial over arrests in man’s death

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Evansville family members who were interrogated, arrested and charged in a foster relative’s death may proceed with a federal civil-rights suit that alleges authorities on both sides of the Ohio River where the man’s body was found wrongly arrested them and falsified reports to build a case that unraveled.

Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana last week denied most of the motions for summary judgment sought by Evansville police and Kentucky State Police, both of which were involved in the investigation into the death of Marcus Golike, whose body was found in the river near Evansville in June 2012.

Three teens discovered the body and alerted Kentucky authorities, who investigated the death until finding a letter in a plastic baggie in Golike’s pocket that identified him as an Evansville resident. According to the record, Golike had been released from prison just days before he died, and he listed the Rescue Mission in Evansville as his address. Evansville police took the lead after his address was learned, though KSP investigators remained involved.

Authorities talked to Debbie Hurt, Golike’s foster sister, and her children, William, Deadra and Andrea Hurt, and learned that Golike had visited Hurt’s home in the days just before his death. According to the record, Debbie said she made dinner for Golike, and that he and her son William played chess before she went to bed. She said Golike was gone the next morning.

Authorities eventually focused their investigation on William, who was 18 when he signed a Miranda waiver at the Evansville Police Department and ultimately confessed after about five hours of interrogation. He told police that he, Deadra, Andrea and another teen began punching, kicking and choking Golike in a van before dumping his body in the river from a location 5 to 6 miles from where his body was found. William also told detectives that afterward, he and the alleged accomplices used Golike’s debit card to buy $20 to $30 worth of candy and other items from a convenience store around 3 a.m.

But the parties dispute the voluntariness of William’s confession, at the end of which he asked investigators, “Was I close to it?” Based on William’s confession, authorities also interrogated and obtained a confession from Deadra, who was 19 at the time, and an admission from Andrea, 16 at the time, in which she said she had been in the van. Andrea later recanted.

The confessions, along with a medical examiner’s testimony that Golike suffered an injury consistent with strangulation, formed the bulk of the state’s case.

William was arrested and charged with murder and robbery. A jury found him not guilty on those counts, but hung on an obstruction of justice charge against him. Charges against Andrea and Deadra were dismissed, but William and Deadra spent several months in jail awaiting trial, leading to this civil suit.

In a 48-page order, Magnus-Stinson used side-by-side charts to illustrate the disputed facts that she said led her to deny summary judgment sought by Evansville police and Kentucky State Police. She ruled those agencies must proceed to trial on William, Deadra and Andrea’s false arrest claims; and William and Deadra’s claims of due process violations for allegedly coerced confessions and malicious prosecution based on fabricated evidence; and all plaintiffs’ claims of failure to intervene and conspiracy. Magnus-Stinson granted the defendants’ summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ federal malicious prosecution claim and several state claims. She ordered the remaining claims to proceed to trial set for Sept. 6.
Among the disputes that Magnus-Stinson said are to be decided by a jury include how Golike died. Evidence in the police investigation record includes witness statements from acquaintances who said Golike had repeatedly threatened suicide by jumping from a bridge near where his body was found. The plaintiffs also claim the letter in his pocket sealed in plastic — a notice from Social Security demanding repayment of hundreds of dollars in overpaid disability benefits — indicates an intent to preserve a record of his identity after taking his life. Expert witnesses on both sides said neither suicide nor homicide could be ruled out as a cause of death, and plaintiffs claim the cause of death should be ruled undetermined.

The plaintiffs also attack the tactics investigators used, claiming they fed a narrative of the crime to William, told him he was lying about evidence, that he was “facing prison forever” and a “fate worse than prison.” Likewise, Deadra claims investigators told her she was “going to hang” before her confession was suppressed by the trial court.

Investigators deny malice or fabricating evidence, but Magnus-Stinson noted William denies he was taken by police to the scene where he told authorities Golike’s body was dumped. Plaintiffs further said a convenience store clerk swore in an affidavit she didn’t remember any kids coming to the store in the hours William mentioned in his confession. Plaintiffs also allege police fabricated the clerk’s identification of some of the plaintiffs in a photo array.

Plaintiffs also allege there is no evidence that Golike’s card was used at the convenience store, and that no physical or video evidence links the plaintiffs to either the convenience store or the site where police said William confessed Golike’s body was dumped.

“The Court must credit William and Deadra’s evidence in ruling on summary judgment, and, if it is true that all of that evidence was fabricated, it would be reasonable for a jury to conclude that the Defendants involved acted with malice,” Magnus-Stinson wrote.

The case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Evansville Division, is Hurt, et al. v. Vantlin, et al., 3:14-cv-92.

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