Teen’s confession to Middletown murder will be permitted at trial, judge rules after watching video

Gonnii White’s confession to Middletown police about the fatal shooting of another teen in a gang-related violence will be permitted as evidence at trial.

White, now 17, is charged with murder with the specifications that he used a firearm and was participating in a gang at the time of the shooting death of Joesph Davis, 17, near the corner of Woodlawn Avenue and Garfield Street during the late-night hours of May 29, 2018.

MORE: Teen suspect in Middletown fatal shooting has criminal past that includes gun charges

The teen is being tried as an adult after the case was bound over to Common Pleas Court by Juvenile Court Judge Kathleen Romans.

Defense attorney Timothy Upton filed a motion last month to suppress White’s statements to Middletown detectives because he says the teen’s rights were violated. In the motion, Upton said White was 16 at the time of the interrogation by police and was not accompanied by an attorney, parent or guardian.

“Defendant was questioned for a few minutes before he was read his Miranda warning. Detective (Kristi) Hughes told him he was probably familiar with Miranda rights from watching television,” Upton wrote in the motion.

He said the detective quickly read White his rights then flipped over the card and showed him where to sign.

The motion also states that White was encouraged to confess in order to receive favorable consideration with his charges or a “kind word” at sentencing.

MORE: Teen to be tried as an adult for fatal gang shooting

Assistant Prosecutor Brad Burress said in a written response that White was read his Miranda Warning just seven minutes into the 60-minute interview with Hughes and Detective Steve Winters after they asked basic questions including date of birth, phone number and family history.

“(Hughes) pulled out two Miranda cards, one for the defendant to read along with as the Miranda Warnings were read to him by police,” Burress wrote in the motion. White then signed the card.

The prosecution said White voluntarily made statements and was not coerced by the detectives in any way.

A larger portion of the interview with White in May, a day after the fatal shooting, was played for Judge Noah Powers II during a hearing Monday. In the video, White has his head down on the table, and at times he stretches and yawns.

At first White said he had been in Douglass Park with friends on May 29 but went home about 8 p.m. to sleep. He says he talked with his girlfriend and tries to show Hughes messages and call history on his phone, perhaps to create an alibi.

During testimony at the hearing, Winters said White was not being truthful based on the investigation and he was trying to get him to admit what he had done.

MORE: Detectives say Middletown teen confessed to murder. His defense attorney was evidence thrown out

“If you were protecting yourself, I get it. But don’t lie to us when we are trying help you,” Winters told White in the interview.

Eventually, White says he was with others when he saw Davis on a bike and saw him make a movement at his side.

“I was scared for my life, (I thought) he had a gun,” White said. “I shot in the air and closed my eyes and shot.”

Winters pointed out that Davis was shot four times, including once in the back, and Davis did not have a gun.

Burress said while Winters did make “some false references,” White’s free will was not overborne.

Powers agreed with the prosecution saying, “police can be dishonest and outright lie,” in interviews, but boundaries must not be crossed. The judge said White handled himself with more maturity than his years during the interview and did not appear to be in any distress; nor did he ask for an attorney or parents.

White, who is being held in lieu of a $750,000 bond, is scheduled to stand trial March 6.

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