District Judge Steve Ellis denied a defense motion Tuesday to suppress the confession Alex "Lucky" Gil Jr. gave to law enforcement officers 10 months ago about his involvement in the Dec. 11, 2009 shooting death of Ronald Philen of Brownwood.
Gil, 21, is one of four men charged with capital murder in Philen's death.
In a hearing that lasted most of the day, Gil's lawyer, Nathan Butler of San Angelo, argued that Gil gave a coerced, "false confession" that should be thrown out when Gil talked to Texas Ranger Danny Crawford and Brownwood police detective Bruce Spruill on Jan. 9, 2012.
Gil came to the Law Enforcement Center that day at Spruill's request and spoke with Spruill in a small interview room, according to testimony. Gil was not under arrest when Gil began speaking with the lawmen, but was arrested after giving the confession.
Butler argued that coercion occurred because:
• Gil was under the influence of alcohol and Xanex when he gave the confession.
Prosecutor Ryan Locker countered that the claim of intoxication was "entirely disingenuous" and is "his only way out of an extremely damaging confession."
Locker argued that there had been no indication when Gil spoke to the lawmen that he was impaired or intoxicated.
• Although the state maintained Gil was not in custody when he gave the confession, custody began the moment the interview began, making it a "custodial interview." The lawmen did not read Gil his rights until they arrested him, and when he gave the confession he had not been "Mirandized," Butler argued.
Gil knew he was being looked at in a capital murder investigation and did not believe he had a choice but to be there, Butler argued.
The lawmen confronted Gil with fingerprint evidence putting him at the shooting scene. Gil at one point asked if he needed a lawyer, and Crawford told Gil that "at some point you very well may need a lawyer," Butler argued.
Locker argued that Gil came to the Law Enforcement Center voluntarily and was not in custody until he gave the confession and was arrested.
Crawford testified that the lawmen's intent was to give Gil a chance to tell how his fingerprints ended up at the crime scene — the home where Ronald Philen lived with his brother, Randall — since Gil had previously said he'd never been to the home.
• Crawford told Gil the case was a death penalty case but said leniency would likely be given to the first suspect who confessed. Crawford told Gil that if he would confessed, Crawford would stand up with Gil in court and say that Gil had cooperated, Butler argued.
Those circumstances "would cause even an individual who is innocent to make a false confession," Butler told Ellis.
Locker countered Crawford "nearly held (Gil's) hand through the whole (Jan. 9 interview). He's sympathetic, he's empathetic … "
Locker asked if Crawford's statements to Gil constituted "coercion to make him confess to capital murder? That is such a reach … this is simply excellent police work."
After hearing the attorneys' arguments, Ellis said he found that Gil was not intoxicated, he was not coerced and that "law enforcement did not act inappropriately. All things considered, the defendant's motions are denied."
Ellis earlier set a Feb. 11 trial date for Gil.
Ellis also set trial dates for the other three defendants. Those dates are:
• Efrain Castillo, 21 — March 25. Castillo's attorney is Patrick Howard of Bangs.
• Pedro Rocha Jr., 21 — April 22. Rocha's attorney is Todd Steele of Brownwood.
• Matthew Navarro, 22 — May 6. Navarro's attorney is Evan Jones of San Angelo.
All four remain in the Brown County Jail. Bond has been denied.
Ellis earlier signed a court order dismissing the murder indictment against Ronald Philen's brother, Randall, who was convicted in November 2011 of Ronald Philens' murder and sentenced to life in prison. Randall Philen had started serving the prison sentence when investigators received information about the alleged involvement of Gil, Castillo, Rocha and Navarro, and Randall Philen was released from prison.