FRONT ROYAL – Defense motions to suppress statements made by accused murderer David Glynn Hoyle Jr. to police in the immediate aftermath of the March 27 shooting death of his mother’s fiancé were denied by Judge Ronald Napier following an hour-and-10-minute hearing on Wednesday afternoon, December 20.
Hoyle, 32 at the time of the shooting in the Grand Avenue home he shared with his mother and 58-year-old Warren Howard Ramsey, is accused of First Degree Murder and Use of a Firearm in the commission of a felony. He faces 20 years to life on the murder charge and a three-year mandatory-minimum of three years on the firearm charge. Hoyle remains incarcerated without bond at RSW Regional Jail.
Defense attorney Ryan Nuzzo argued that his client was questioned without proper Miranda rights being exercised by town police on the scene and during a subsequent interview during which he was given a gun residue test. The defense team from the Public Defenders Office was also seeking suppression of the result of that gun residue test.
At issue for the defense was their client’s ability to comprehend a waiver of his Miranda rights, as well as whether initial questions asked by officers immediately after they arrived on the scene of a report of a man down with gunshot wounds were made without Miranda rights being offered.
Nuzzo solicited an admission by one officer, Investigator Landin Waller who conducted the post-arrest interview and residue testing of Hoyle, that he was aware from previous police interaction with Hoyle that the defendant had suffered a brain injury at an earlier point in time. The defense position was that Hoyle may not have been capable of understanding the implications of several affirmative answers to officers regarding his willingness to talk about the crime and his part in it, both before and after being Mirandized.
Judge Napier said he had reviewed four hours of police video from the scene and subsequent Waller interview with Hoyle. After explaining that he had been impressed with the defense motion on the suppression of the interview evidence, Judge Napier said he had approached the videos with a skeptical mind as to their admissibility.
“But I didn’t see anything improper,” the judge said in prefacing his denial of the defense motions. Napier agreed that officers arrived to a very tense and emotional scene with both Hoyle and his mother present and no information on whether an armed shooter might still be on the scene.
Judge Napier said he believed initial questions to a very agitated Hoyle were simply attempts get a handle on the situation.
“I think the officers were just trying to figure out what’s going on here – they weren’t pointing the finger at anybody … the defendant very spontaneously admitted he shot him,” Napier said of what he had seen on video and read from transcripts of the videos.
Hoyle’s ability to be understood at times, particularly during the post-arrest Waller interview, as well as contradictory answers to questions, also came into play in the defense argument. Defense counsel Nuzzo pointed to one sequence where Investigator Waller asked Hoyle if he understood his Miranda rights. An initial “no” answer was followed by an additional explanation and subsequent “yes” from Hoyle, followed by what Nuzzo described as a “mumbling shriek”.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Anna Hammond countered that officers at the scene had bent over backward to accommodate a very distraught and emotional Hoyle. “All the officers were extremely kind, gentle and patient with Mr. Hoyle. There was no kind of coercive environment, absolutely no police misconduct,” she told the court.
Perhaps oddly, Nuzzo agreed in principal with Hammond’s rebuttal description – “Officer Waller showed a lot of humanity … I’m not saying otherwise – it is just the ability of Mr. Hoyle to understand,” the defense attorney told the court.
In arguing for suppression Nuzzo said, “I ask the court to err on the side of the defendant.” He said he feared a ruling for the prosecution retention of the evidence could “open the door to future officers – not Detective Waller,” Nuzzo elaborated, to ignore or improperly apply Miranda rights.
However, the court did not agree that the specific circumstances of this post-crime questioning could lay the groundwork for future abuses by law enforcement.
During questioning of other officers who initially responded to the scene it was testified that Hoyle had nodded affirmatively when asked if he had shot Ramsey.
“I couldn’t take it anymore – but I didn’t want to do that,” Officer Tyler Smith testified Hoyle told him. “He seemed upset, in a state of shock,” Smith testified of Hoyle’s demeanor at the scene.
During an April hearing the defense requested and was granted a mental competency hearing for their client.
A hearing date was set for the 9 a.m. docket on January 3 to set a trial date.