Friday, July 19, 2002
Death Sentence Upheld in Killing of San Diego County Woman
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday upheld a death sentence for Kurt Michaels in the 1988 stabbing death of his girlfriend’s mother, JoAnn Clemens of Escondido.
The justices unanimously rejected Michaels’ assertion that he confessed to the killing only after his request for counsel and right to remain silent was invoked and ignored.
Michaels waived his rights before confessing, the court said, and did not later invoke them in the course of banter with police detectives.
According to a transcript of his interview, Michaels was laughing frequently while responding to questioners who advised him of his rights.
When asked for his “side of the story,” Michaels answered, “I don’t know if I should without an attorney.” A detective responded by reminding the defendant that he had been advised of his rights, and added that he could stop the interview at any time if there is “a question you don’t want to answer.”
Michaels replied, “Okay, that one,” and laughed.
In an opinion by Justice Joyce Kennard, the court said Michaels’ statement about an attorney was “at best an equivocal request for representation.” The defendant’s second comment, Kennard said, was not an unequivocal invocation of his right to silence but a refusal to answer a particular question.
“Defendant did not assert a right to answer any questions, ask that the questioning come to a halt, or request counsel,” Kennard said. “Instead, he was showing that he knew he could refuse to answer any or all questions and would exercise this right on a question-by question basis.”
The court also rejected Michaels’ contention that the detectives should have realized that he was so high on methamphetamine that any waiver he made would not be competent. The transcript does not by itself show he was under the influence of the drug, Kennard said, and Michaels failed to raise the issue at trial.
Michaels, who was known as “Moccasin Kurt,” was 22 at the time of the killing. He served in the Marines for 31/2 years, was married briefly, had a child, and divorced.
He received a psychiatric discharge from the Marines in 1987. Since then, he lived on money he made from selling drugs and other illegal activities. He was working at a carnival in Oceanside at the time of the murder.
Michaels presented evidence at trial that his girlfriend, 16-year-old Christina Clemens, had been sexually abused repeatedly by her mother. She testified at trial that she asked Michaels to kill her mother and that, if he didn’t, she would commit suicide.
Christina Clemens was living at an adolescent rehabilitation facility at the time of the murder.
Police found JoAnn Clemens with two fatal stab wounds in her Escondido apartment, arrested an accomplice on a tip from an eyewitness, and arrested Michaels a week later at the carnival. He confessed immediately after his arrest.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company