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Supreme Court Accepts New York Murder Confession Case

April 17, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today agreed to consider reinstating the murder conviction of a New York City man who confessed to killing his former girlfriend after police illegally arrested him at his home.

The court said it will review a ruling that threw out Bernard Harris’ conviction because his confession was used as evidence against him.

The ruling is being appealed by Bronx prosecutors.

The New York State Court of Appeals last October ruled that Harris is entitled to a new trial on charges stemming from the stabbing death of Thelma Staton.

Ms. Staton’s body was found in her apartment Jan. 11, 1984. Police were told by Ms. Staton’s daughter that Harris had kidnapped the victim several days earlier and had raped her before letting her go.

Police said they went to Harris’ apartment five days after discovering Ms. Staton’s body, with probable cause to believe Harris was the killer. But they did not have an arrest warrant.

After knocking on Harris’ door and receiving no answer, one officer went down a fire escape to a window and announced that the police had arrived. Other officers at the front door, with guns drawn and badges displayed, then were allowed by Harris to enter.

Harris was given his so-called Miranda warnings that he had a right to remain silent and have a lawyer’s help. Police said Harris then poured himself a glass of wine and confessed to killing Ms. Staton.

He was arrested and taken to the stationhouse where, about one hour later, he gave police a written confession.

A trial judge ruled that Harris’ confession at the apartment could not be used as evidence because his arrest - made without a warrant and in violation of his privacy rights - was unlawful.

But the judge permitted prosecutors to introduce as evidence the stationhouse confession, ruling it was not tainted by the illegal arrest. The connection between the arrest and the stationhouse confession was sufficiently ″attenuated″ to permit its use, the judge ruled.

But the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled that the stationhouse confession was a direct byproduct of the unlawful arrest.

The state court relied heavily on a 1980 Supreme Court ruling that said police must have a warrant to arrest someone at home unless some emergency exists.

The justices in that case barred from being used as evidence a bullet casing found at a murder suspect’s home.

The New York court said the 1980 ruling means ″the fruits of illegal entries must be suppressed even though the police might have probable cause to conduct a search or effectuate an arrest outside the home without a warrant.″

The case is New York vs. Harris, 88-1000.

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