05/05/2003

Supreme Court Raps Texas Police for Handling of Juvenile Arrest

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court sharply criticized Texas police on Monday for tactics used to get a teenager to confess in a murder case: waking him at 3 a.m. and taking him clad only in underwear to the crime scene.

Police in suburban Houston had maintained that 17-year-old Robert Justin Kaupp willingly went with officers and that his constitutional rights were not violated. The officers had been unable to get approval of a warrant to question Kaupp and they didn't have enough evidence to arrest him.

The high court, in an unsigned opinion, said that the teen's January 1999 confession probably should be thrown out.

"A group of police officers rousing an adolescent out of bed in the middle of the night with the words `we need to go and talk' presents no option but to go," the court said.

The officers were investigating the disappearance of 14-year-old Destiny Thetford. Her body was found in a sewage pipe, and her half brother and Kaupp were convicted. Police say the brother was angry that the girl ended their incestuous relationship.

Before his arrest, Kaupp had been active in helping with the investigation. He had gone with the family to report the girl missing, passed a lie detector test and helped pass out fliers in the search, according to court records.

The girl's half brother implicated Kaupp in the crime. In the middle of the night, an entourage of officers, in six cars, surrounded Kaupp's house and told his parents that they needed to see him.

They shined a flashlight in his face, pulled him from bed and handcuffed him. They took him away without allowing him to put on clothes or shoes.

Kaupp's attorney, Jimmy Phillips Jr., told justices that officers used bullying tactics to get the teen into custody and that the arrest was unconstitutional.

After the arrest, Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas said Kaupp and 18-year-old Nicholaus Baron Thetford had confessed. "Neither was remorseful, only bothered they got caught," he said at the time.

But the Supreme Court said that Kaupp only confessed to having a role in the crime, not taking part in the killing. Kaupp was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to a Texas court to consider any other evidence.

The case is Kaupp v. Texas, 02-5636.

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