Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, June 28, 2013


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High Court Upholds Death Penalty in Rape, Murder of Child

Justices Unanimously Reject Claim Defendant Was Tricked Into Confessing




The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death penalty for a man who strangled his 12-year-old neighbor in Riverside County in 1994.

Daniel Linton, sentenced to death in 1999, claimed that a detective and a prosecutor used false promises of leniency in order to get him to admit to a sexual assault on Melissa Middleton. Middleton was killed in her home in San Jacinto, and Linton confessed the next day.

He never recanted the confession, and his trial counsel did not dispute that he killed the girl while burglarizing her family’s home. But the defense argued that he was deceived into admitting that he attempted to have sex with the victim—which he repeatedly denied in earlier statements—in order to bolster the case for the death penalty.

Police Questioning

Linton was first questioned at his home, then taken the next day to a police station where he gave a taped interview. Police said he confessed on the way to the interview that he had used a key to the Middleton home and strangled Melissa in her upstairs bedroom, on a morning when she stayed home from school because she wasn’t feeling well.

Linton said he was surprised to find her at home, and told her he was leaving, but panicked when she started to scream. He repeatedly denied any sexual interest in Melissa as a motive for going over to the house and denied he had raped her, but conceded he unbuttoned and unzipped her pants, giving shifting explanations as to why.

Ultimately, however, he admitted that he had entered her bedroom weeks before the killing and began choking her in the bedroom. Her parents testified that she had come into their room that night and said she had been attacked, but that they found no evidence of an intruder so they thought she was relating a nightmare.

Linton admitted trying to rape Melissa on that occasion.

Jurors found him guilty of first degree murder with special circumstances of burglary, rape or attempted rape, and child molestation. They also found him guilty of burglary, attempted rape, and child molestation in connection with the prior incident, and following the penalty phase they returned a death penalty verdict.

Riverside Superior Court Judge Gordon R. Burkhart denied defense motions for a new trial and for modification of the death penalty verdict and imposed the death sentence.

Chief Justice’s Opinion

But Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, writing for the high court, noted that Linton had waived his Miranda rights the day after the alleged promises of leniency were made, and that he appeared to understand the waiver.

On appeal, Linton’s court-appointed attorney, Diane Berley, argued that his statements should have been suppressed because Detective Glenn Stotz and Deputy District Attorney William Mitchell had promised that his statements about the prior incident and about any sexual interest in or sexual conduct with Melissa would not be used against him. 

The chief justice explained:

“The totality of the circumstances reflects that defendant understood at the time of his waiver that one of the consequences of his decision to waive his rights and talk to police would be the availability of all of his statements for potential use by the prosecution.  Indeed, when defendant subsequently expressed reluctance to talk on tape about the prior incident, Stotz assured defendant he understood, that this was just part of the interview, and that defendant was not going to get in trouble for what happened two weeks earlier.  Defendant asked, ‘Why not?’ Stotz replied, ‘Well because like I told you last night, that’s water under the bridge.’  Defendant’s response is telling: he next said, ‘That’s until today.’…That is, defendant had understood at the time of his Miranda waiver that he had not been promised any escape from the criminal consequences of the prior incident.  He knew he had not been promised any leniency at all if he had murdered Melissa.”

The case, which was argued by Deputy Attorney General Lise S. Jacobson for the prosecution, is People v. Linton, 13 S.O.S. 3251.


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