By Brian Maass
ELBERT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A judge in Elbert County has ruled an investigator in a high profile murder case improperly obtained a detailed confession from the suspect and that confession, as well as other key evidence like the murder weapons, have been suppressed and will not be allowed at trial.
In a 23-page ruling issued Aug. 30, District Court Judge Gary Kramer threw out the confession of Joe Robert Love, who admitted murdering Ed Butler, saying an investigator for the Arapahoe County District Attorney failed to properly give Love a Miranda warning, despite the fact Love told the investigator three times that he did not want to talk and could not afford an attorney.
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler declined to discuss the ruling with CBS4 saying the case was open and ongoing.
Harvey Steinberg, a defense attorney and former prosecutor called the ruling “extremely rare. This case is a reaffirmation of the need for Miranda.”
Love was a suspect in the 2016 murder of Butler, a resident of Agate, which is in Elbert County. Butler, 68, was found murdered Jan. 23, 2016. He had been shot to death.
In January 2017, an investigator from the Elbert County Sheriffs office along with Michael Buoniconti, an investigator with the 18th Judicial District, traveled to Fort Bliss, Texas where Love was stationed as a private with the U.S. Army.
According to the Judge’s order, Buoniconti interrogated Love for more than 15 hours. Early in the interview, Buoniconti asked Love about what happened in Elbert County without giving him a Miranda warning.
“Why were you there man? You got to tell me. I know you don’t know me Joe, but I’m telling you, you got to tell me. You got to talk. You got to, you got to help me out and… and show me what… what’s going on, man,” said Buoniconti.
The judge said Love responded, ”I don’t got nothing else to say. I don’t have no more money for a lawyer, you know? Took all that money so I don’t got nothing else to say”.
Buoniconti ignored the statement that Love had “nothing else to say” and persisted according to the Judge’s order.
“Why were you out there, What brought you out there? Who brought you out there?” queried the investigator.
Kramer wrote that “Investigator Buoniconti ignored Defendants statements that he had ‘nothing to say’ and that he did not have money for a lawyer. Instead, Investigator Buoniconti persisted in his questioning. Despite Investigator Buoniconti’s persistent entreaties, Defendant repeated for the third time: ‘I got nothing to say,'” wrote the judge.
Hours later, according to a transcript of the conversation, the suspect again said, “Yeah, I don’t have money for an attorney, so…”
Buoniconti interrupted saying, ”Well, that’s neither here nor there…”
Nearly nine hours after the interrogation began, the transcript of the interview states Love said, ”Yeah, I can talk to you some more.” Then, for a full hour provided a detailed description of the murder.
The judge said the investigator did not Mirandize the suspect or advise him of his rights prior to that confession. It was only at 7:26 pm, after the confession, that Buoniconti read Love his Miranda rights.
Love also told Buoniconti where he had dumped two firearms used in the murder. Police followed Love’s instructions and recovered the guns.
The interrogation that began at 9:08 a.m. ended at 12:29 a.m. with Love in custody for murder.
Kramer wrote that, ”Under the circumstances of this case, the Court concludes that a reasonable officer would have interpreted Defendant’s statement that he had nothing to say because he could not afford a lawyer as an invocation of both his right to counsel and his right to remain silent. Investigator Buoniconti asked Defendant many questions designed to elicit incriminating information. He nonetheless asked questions designed to elicit incriminating information, which did, in fact, elicit a detailed confession after Defendant had told Investigator Buoniconti three times that he had ‘nothing to say’ and that he (Defendant) could not afford an attorney.”
During an earlier court hearing, Buoniconti testified he was not deliberately trying to circumvent the Miranda warning. But Judge Kramer said he found Buoniconti’s testimony on that issue “to be not credible.”
Kramer ordered Love’s confession suppressed, along with other physical evidence obtained during the confession including the two guns.
Steinberg reviewed the Judge’s ruling and said, ”It’s as big a blow to the prosecution as you can imagine in any case. When you lose physical evidence and the confession, it makes a case very hard to prove.”
A spokesperson for the Arapahoe County District Attorney said the office would not appeal the hudge’s suppression ruling and that the D.A. still intends to take the case to trial next month.
“The reason he didn’t give Miranda,” concluded Steinberg, “is he (Love) would ask for a lawyer and he (Buoniconti) knew he was done. And this suppression order is to protect the system and and ensure people in power play by the rules.”
The existence of the suppression order was first reported by the Eastern Colorado News newspaper on Sept. 7.
Since then, word of the major ruling has spread around Agate to people like Vic Craven, who knew Ed Butler her entire life.
“We are saddened beyond belief. We all believe that justice will come to light. And we thought it had when the person – when things showed they took his life. Okay, due process, it will all come out like it should, and it’s not,” Craven said.
He added the fact the confession is no longer allowed “doesn’t change that he did the murder.”
Love has pleaded not guilty and his trial on murder charges is scheduled to begin Oct. 16.