ALAMOSA — Appearing before District Judge Michael Gonzales on Friday, attorneys argued a motion to suppress statements made about a year ago by Perry Hotz, 21, charged with murder in connection to the death of his 5 1/2-month-old daughter.
Hotz has pleaded not guilty, and a trial is scheduled for February. Judge Gonzales last month reduced Hotz’s bond from $500,000 to $250,000, but Hotz remains in custody.
On the basis that Hotz was coerced into making them, Hotz’s attorney argued for suppression of October 2016 statements Hotz made to Alamosa County Sheriff Detective Sergeant John Vasquez, who is now a detective with the Alamosa Police Department. Chief Trial Deputy District Attorney Ashley Paige Fetyko argued that Hotz was not coerced or physically restrained, had been properly advised of his Miranda rights and voluntarily spoke with Vasquez last October.
“Mr. Hotz could have left at any time,” Fetyko said.
Vasquez interviewed Hotz on October 10, 2016, at the Children’s Hospital in Aurora where Hotz’s daughter had been taken for treatment after being injured at the Hotz family residence in Hooper while under the care of her father. Hotz has attributed her injuries to a fall from a bouncy chair. Hotz’s daughter initially suffered head trauma on October 8 and died on October 11.
Vasquez was the only witness during the Friday hearing regarding the defense’s motion to suppress Hotz’s statements. Detective Vasquez served as the lead investigator during the homicide investigation regarding Hotz’s daughter last year. He said he wanted to speak with Hotz because law enforcement received information that there were inconsistencies regarding the child’s injuries.
Vasquez described the setting and circumstances of his interview with Hotz on October 10 at the hospital. Vasquez said he asked Hotz, who was in a hospital room with family members at the time, if he could speak with him, and he and Hotz went to an unused waiting room to talk. Their conversation, which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, was recorded.
Vasquez said that Hotz was initially “very nervous, he was breathing hard,” and Vasquez told him not to be scared because he just wanted to have a conversation with him.
No one else was in the room, Vasquez testified, although he said Hotz’s wife at the time tried to “interject herself into the conversation I was trying to have with Mr. Hotz,” and Vasquez did not allow her to remain. He said at that point it was important to keep potential codefendants and/or witnesses separated during interviews. He told Hotz’s wife to leave. She had told Vasquez she was not talking to him, and he said that was fine.
Vasquez said he then told Hotz that he did not have to talk to him either, but he wanted that to be his choice, not someone else’s.
Vasquez testified that after Hotz’s wife left, Hotz became calmer.
The only other interruptions during the interview, Vasquez said were a text message Hotz received, and Vasquez asked him not to text while they were talking, and a phone call Vasquez received but did not answer for the same reason, to prevent interruptions during the interview.
Vasquez said he advised Hotz of his Miranda rights and explained them to him, and Hotz signed the Miranda form, which is stamped with the time Hotz signed it. Vasquez said he informed Hotz he could stop the interview at any time, and after about an hour Hotz did end their conversation and left the room.
Vasquez also testified that he did not ask Hotz any questions before he signed the Miranda form but did ask him questions after Hotz signed the form and agreed to talk with him. He said when Hotz said he wanted to end the interview and leave, Vasquez did not ask him any more questions after that, although Hotz then asked him a question and resumed the conversation before ultimately leaving the room.
Vasquez described the interview as a calm conversation about the situation regarding Hotz’s daughter Alexis, whom Hotz called “Peewee.” Vasquez said neither he nor Hotz raised their voices during the interview.
He said he never restrained Hotz during the interview. (Hotz was not arrested until about two days later.)
Vasquez said Hotz asked him if somebody might go to jail over what happened. “I was open and honest with him,” Vasquez said. “I told him there’s a possibility somebody could go to jail.”
Vasquez said Hotz also asked him why the doctors were comparing his child’s injuries to those sustained from a high velocity car accident, and he explained that the doctors were using that example to describe the type of trauma the child had suffered.
“I answered his questions honestly,” Vasquez testified during the Friday motion hearing. He said he also asked Hotz to be honest with him. “I told him don’t let fear hold your honesty back,” he said.
Vasquez testified that he neither threatened nor promised anything to Hotz but followed protocol while conducting the interview. Vasquez said he did not know exactly how many interviews he has conducted in his 17 years in law enforcement, but it has been more than 50.
He added, “I have never violated Miranda. I won’t violate Miranda. I always make sure to keep that Fifth Amendment right.”
Fetyko asked the judge to deny the defense’s motion to suppress Hotz’s interview with Vasquez.
Hotz’s attorney argued that Vasquez took advantage of Hotz when he was physically and psychologically weak, having been at the hospital with his dying daughter for a couple of days already, and that Hotz was coerced into speaking with Vasquez.
Judge Gonzales gave the defense and prosecution time to file written findings and conclusions of law and said he would then rule on the suppression motion.
The judge scheduled the next status/pretrial conference in the case for December 5.