Judge denies most motions to suppress evidence in Ryan Welch’s upcoming murder trial for the death of Jessica Pripstein
NORTHAMPTON — A Superior Court judge has denied most of the motions filed by Ryan Welch’s attorney to suppress evidence against him in his murder trial.
Welch, 37, is accused of killing his girlfriend, Jessica Ann Pripstein, 39, on Feb. 20, 2012, in her Ward Avenue apartment in Easthampton. He has pleaded not guilty to the slaying.
At a Dec. 3 hearing, Welch’s attorney, Paul Rudof, argued that notes Welch wrote to medical staff while he was unable to speak were seized without proper warrants, and statements he made to police were obtained improperly.
Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder said in all but one instance, the evidence against Welch was admissible in court.
Kinder allowed the suppression of some statements Welch made to Massachusetts State Police Detective John Riley while he was recovering at Baystate Medical Center from what prosecutors allege were self-inflicted injuries to his neck.
Kinder said in his decision that because Welch’s Miranda warnings were incomplete, any statements he made after 6 minutes and 34 seconds into a videotaped statement were inadmissible.
“(Riley) used the formal arrest to spend an additional 36 minutes communicating with Welch knowing that he had previously invoked his right to counsel,” Kinder wrote in part of the 15-page decision.
Kinder said in his decision that statements Welch wrote to law enforcement while he was unable to speak due to a breathing tube in his throat were not explicit invocations of his right to remain silent and statements he wrote would be allowed into evidence.
In response to Riley asking Welch if he felt up to talking about the events of Feb. 20, Welch wrote, “At least one more day (in intensive care) ... not sure when I can talk.”
Rudof argued that the note was an attempt by Welch to exercise his right to remain silent and any statements made after that should be inadmissible.
Kinder disagreed, writing, “... this written statement was not sufficiently clear to invoke his constitutional right to remain silent,” and Welch was aware of his right to remain silent as evidenced by an explicit request made later to stop an interview and speak to a lawyer.
Kinder also disagreed that notes written by Welch to communicate with hospital staff and law enforcement were inadmissible, because Welch should have had no expectation of privacy in the hospital’s ICU and in his room where the door was always open and staff and police freely entered and exited.
Kinder said Welch made no attempt to keep the notes private and willingly shared them with authorities as a means to communicate.
Kinder determined that despite Welch’s serious injuries, he was mentally competent and understood everything that was going on around him, as evidenced by his behavior and the positive results of cognitive tests administered by hospital staff.
Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci, who is prosecuting the case, said by telephone Tuesday that his office was pleased with Kinder’s decision and believe it to be legally sound.
Welch’s case is tentatively scheduled to go to trial sometime in April, Bucci said.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.