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Spinner v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia

May 30, 2019



          PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Mims, McClanahan, Kelsey, and McCullough, JJ., and Russell, S.J.



         This appeal challenges a ruling by the trial court, affirmed by the Court of Appeals, denying Vincent Earl Spinner's motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a police interrogation. Spinner contends that his constitutional rights articulated by the Supreme Court of the United States in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and its progeny, were denied. Two questions are presented: (1) Whether the interrogation took place under circumstances requiring Miranda warnings prior to questioning, and (2) if so, whether the warnings actually given were constitutionally sufficient.

         I. Facts and Proceedings

         With one exception, discussed below, the facts relevant to the issues on appeal are undisputed. In accordance with familiar principles of appellate review, they will be considered in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party below.

         James C. Payne (the victim) lived alone in his home in Campbell County in 2012. He was 89 years old, suffered from diabetic complications and was largely dependent on a motorized scooter and a cane to move about. Several days each week he was assisted by a caregiver who came to his home, cooked his meals, ran errands for him and assisted him with business affairs.

          On August 3, 2012, the victim's body was found on his kitchen floor in a pool of blood resulting from 25 stab wounds, one of which had penetrated his heart. He was last seen alive by a roofer who had visited the house that morning. The body was found by his son, who came to visit his father about 6:00 p.m. and called the police. The murder had apparently occurred about 2:00 p.m.

         Investigator Brian Dudley of the Campbell County Sheriff's Office, who later qualified as an expert witness in crime scene forensics, processed the scene for fingerprints. He found none, not even those of the victim. There were no blood scatterings, footprints or other DNA-bearing materials, other than the victim's blood around his body. Dudley testified, however, that crime scenes so devoid of forensic evidence were not unusual. The victim's caregiver and family members testified that he always carried his wallet, containing cash, credit cards and medical cards, in his trouser pocket. The wallet and the victim's checkbook were missing from the crime scene. Neither was ever found, but the victim's healthcare provider prescription card, which he always carried in his wallet, was found under the driver's seat of the car Spinner was driving around this time.[1]

         Investigator Mike Milnor, of the Campbell County Sherriff's office, was assigned to the case. Milnor's inquiries led him to focus his attention on Spinner, the victim's son-in-law, having married Tamara Payne, the victim's daughter. Spinner had formerly lived in the Lynchburg area but had been living with Tamara in Winchester since about 2009. A week before the murder, Spinner had called a family member to report that Tamara had left him and that he planned to return to Lynchburg on August 1, 2012 to stay with his brother, who had a home there.

          The day after the murder, Investigator Milnor called on Spinner at Spinner's brother's home and asked him to come to the police station to help them find the perpetrator. Spinner declined, saying that he didn't want "things to get twisted up." On the morning of the following day, August 5, Spinner came to the police station voluntarily at Milnor's request but gave no information and asked if he was free to leave. When told that he was free to leave, he did so.

On the evening of the same day, at about 7:00 p.m., Investigator Milnor arrived at Spinner's brother's home accompanied by several other law-enforcement officers, for the purpose of executing search warrants for the residence and for the collection of fingernail clippings from Spinner for DNA analysis. While other officers searched the residence, Milnor spoke with Spinner outdoors, in an open carport beside the house and near a sidewalk, while another officer took Spinner's fingernail clippings. There was no evidence that Spinner was restrained in any way or that he was uncooperative, but Milnor testified at the suppression hearing that he thought the circumstances might amount to a custodial interrogation and that he therefore gave Spinner the following Miranda warnings before asking him any questions:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you're being questioned. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any question and if you wish one. And I always caveat that with: 'If you're charged with a crime.' You can decide at any time to exercise any of these rights and stop answering questions or to stop answering-making any statements.

         In response, Spinner made several statements which the court later held to be admissible in evidence as admissions. He appeared to understand the Miranda warnings, however, because he then told Milnor that he did not want to ...

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