Seal beheader trial set for Jan. 9

A man accused of beheading a dead monk seal should have been read his Miranda rights immediately after he allegedly confessed to the crime, a judge determined yesterday.

Fifth District Court Judge Trudy Senda said Justin Freemon, 24, should have been warned that he was incriminating himself the moment after he allegedly told officers “I did it, I did it,” she said.

Senda said officers had probable cause to interview Freemon, but said no further questions should have been asked of him after he “uttered those words,” ruling anything Freemon said after that will be suppressed evidence.

Paul Newman, a federal enforcement officer who interviewed Freemon, continued to gather information from Freemon without having “Mirandized” him because he had no intention of arresting him, he said.

Freemon was arrested the next day, May 12.

The charges against Freemon stem from the investigation done by the officers from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement at Pila‘a Beach.

In addition to being charged with violating the Endangered Species Act, a misdemeanor charge, Freemon also is charged with intimidation of a witness, a neighboring Pila‘a camper.

Newman said before interviewing Freemon he went to the campsite to find the head rumored to be hidden in a makeshift toilet, but couldn’t find it.

Later, officers visited a residence where Freemon kept a garden, and left a message for him to call them.

When Freemon returned the call, two armed officers interviewed him.

“I was fearful, nervous,” Freemon said.

It was during a 45-minute conversation with officers Newman and Otis Ingram Jr. that Freemon allegedly confessed, a time during which he didn’t think he was allowed to leave, he said.

Though Newman said he had no intention of arresting Freemon that day and was conducting an investigation, not an interrogation, he also said he knew a confession to beheading a dead monk seal was admission of a crime.

It was at that point in time that Freemon should have been read his rights, Senda said.

Senda will allow for counsel to submit written arguments by Jan. 2 to determine whether physical evidence — the seal head and a kitchen knife used to cut it off — will be admitted.

Freemon’s trial is set for 8:30 a.m. Jan. 9.

Fewer than 1,300 Hawaiian monk seals exist, and all are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and state wildlife laws.

Under those laws, residents are prohibited from harassing, harming or killing those mammals.

• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or agregg@kauaipubco.com.

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