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Split appeals court affirms murder conviction

By: Bennett Loudon//June 17, 2021

Split appeals court affirms murder conviction

By: Bennett Loudon//June 17, 2021//

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In a split decision, a state appeals court has affirmed arson and murder convictions in an Onondaga County case.

Shaun Bowen was convicted in December 2017 in Onondaga County Court of second-degree murder, first-degree arson and third-degree criminal mischief.

In a 4-1 decision released June 11, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court affirmed the convictions.

Justices John V. Centra, John M. Curran, Tracey A. Bannister and Brian F. DeJoseph voted to uphold the verdict. Justice Stephen K. Lindley dissented.

Bowen placed a propane tank inside an oven at a 12-room boarding house, which led to a fire and caused the death of one of the tenants.

Before the fire, Bowen was visiting former housemates and became angry after arguing with some of them.

A pre-trial hearing determined that Bowen invoked his right to counsel during a videotaped interview with police, but he made several incriminating statements which were ruled “admissible because they were spontaneously made.”

“Those statements were made by defendant after the interrogation ceased and while a detective was sitting next to him, completing the arrest paperwork,” according to the decision.

Bowen asked a detective how one of the victims was doing.

The detective replied that she was “hurt” and said that she “lost the person she loved the most in life.”

Bowen started crying and the detective whispered, “Good response.” He told Bowen, “That’s remorse.”

In the first statement at issue, Bowen said to the detective: “It wasn’t supposed to happen like that” and that he “didn’t mean for any of that to happen.”

In a second statement, Bowen said: “I just wanted to prank ‘em just like jig ‘em.”

After the detective made several statements, including that “remorse is what we wanted to see” and that the police did not think Bowen’s intention was to kill anyone, Bowen said in a third statement: “I should’ve just stuck around. Maybe I could have done something.”

The court rejected the defense contention that the detective provoked the first two statements.

“Those statements were triggered by defendant’s own thoughts about (the victim),” according to the decision.

The court agreed that the third statement was not spontaneous because it was in response to express questioning by the detective.

“We conclude, however, that the error in admitting the third statement was harmless,” the court ruled.

“The proof of guilt, including defendant’s first and second statements … was overwhelming, and there was no reasonable possibility that the error contributed to the conviction,” the court ruled.

Lindley wrote in a dissent that all three statements should have been suppressed.

“I further conclude that the constitutional error cannot be deemed harmless,” Lindley wrote.

“It is clear that defendant invoked his right to counsel and that no further questioning was permitted unless defendant waived his right to counsel in the presence of defense counsel,” Lindley wrote.

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