Court overturns conviction, citing setting in which admission made
by Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times Staff Reporter
A state Court of Appeals yesterday overturned the conviction of a Renton man who told police and a prosecutor about his involvement in a murder because he thought he would get a plea deal for his cooperation.
The appeals court ruled that Simon Nowinski -- who was convicted of second-degree murder in 2001 based on statements he made during a police interrogation at which a prosecutor was present -- had a reasonable belief that he was engaged in plea negotiations with the prosecutor when he made the confession.
"To me, it's a no-brainer and clearly, they reached the proper decision," said Nowinski's attorney, Richard Hansen. "It's just a shame the trial judge didn't reach this decision a couple of years ago."
The rule protecting a defendant from being punished for statements of guilt made during plea negotiations is designed to encourage plea bargains by allowing defendants to talk honestly without fear that their statements will be used against them at trial, the appeals court wrote in its decision.
According to court documents, Nowinski, now 24, was a suspect in the August 2000 murder of Daniel Dalabos, 21, whose stabbed body was found on a wooded embankment in rural South King County near Lake Youngs.
Detectives questioned Nowinski for hours and received only evasive answers, court documents say.
At some point, detectives understood that Nowinski wanted to make a deal that would promise him a more-lenient punishment in exchange for his cooperation, and a King County prosecutor was called in, court documents say.
Nowinski then described how he and another man had been angry at Dalabos for allegedly talking to police about an earlier crime in which all three were involved. According to Nowinski, the other man -- who has not been charged in relation to the slaying -- was the man who wielded the knife.
Although the prosecutor told Nowinski that he could not make a deal that night, the appeals court said that his very presence was enough to offer Nowinski a reasonable belief that he was involved in negotiations and was not simply making a confession.
In its opinion, the court wrote that Nowinski knew from prior involvement in the criminal justice system that only a prosecutor could resolve or "deal" a case.
In addition, one of the officers told Nowinski that a prosecutor would be called in to answer any questions and that cooperation would help him.
The state argued that Nowinski's expectiation was not reasonable because the prosecutor told the defendant up front that there would be no deal that night and that the prosecutor needed to take the information back to his boss before making a decision.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office will review the ruling and determine whether to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court or take it back to trial, according to Chief of Staff Dan Satterberg.
Nowinski has served three of the 20 years to which he was sentenced by King County Superior Court Judge Philip Hubbard.