Suppression of homicide trial evidence requested

May 28, 2014
Jordan Clemons, charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend, arrives at Washington County Courthouse for his preliminary hearing in February 2012. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

An attorney representing a 25-year-old Canonsburg man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend is arguing that prosecutors should not be permitted to use an incriminating statement his client made the night of his arrest.

Deputy Public Defender Brian Gorman argued Friday before Washington County Judge Katherine Emery that the statement Jordan Clemons made on the evening of Jan. 13, 2012, should be suppressed because state police violated his right to remain silent and his right to counsel. Gorman also argued the statement should be suppressed because Clemons was intoxicated and/or incapacitated when he made them.

Clemons is accused of killing his former girlfriend, Karissa Kunco, 21, of Pittsburgh, in January 2012 and dumping her body in a wooded area of Mt. Pleasant Township. Kunco was last seen alive Jan. 11, 2012. State police allege that after killing her, Clemons dragged her naked body into the woods along Sabo Road and covered it with leaves, brush and a tree stump. Her throat was cut.

Gorman argued that the pertinent question in the suppression matter is whether Clemons “in fact knowingly and voluntarily waived the rights delineated in a Miranda case,” according to a brief filed in support of his motion.

“The Pennsylvania Constitution, unlike the United States Constitution, requires an explicit waiver, which clearly did not occur in this case. The trooper read the defendant his rights and did not ask him if he understood them or for any response. … The defendant made no direct response to his constitutional rights and instead just simply started talking about the case.”

Gorman also argued that while the trooper did read Clemons his constitutional rights, he did so to a person who was under the influence.

“He was intoxicated and failed to understand his rights and make a voluntary and knowing waiver at the time that his rights were read and the statement given,” Gorman claims.

While Gorman acknowledges that the fact that Clemons had been drinking does not automatically “invalidate his subsequent incriminating statements,” he questions whether his client had “sufficient mental capacity” at the time.

“Mere recent imbibing or the existence of a hangover does not make his confession inadmissible, but only goes to the weight to be accorded to it. The determining factor is whether a confession was the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice.”

Gorman noted in his brief that the trooper was aware of Clemons’ intoxication and that Clemons was complaining of being tired, upset and that his head hurt.

Gorman did not return calls for comment.

First Assistant District Attorney Chad Schneider said the statement in question gives a detailed account of Clemons’ whereabouts the day Kunco was killed.

“He made the choice to speak,” Schneider said.

Emery’s decision on the matter is pending.

In addition to criminal homicide, aggravated assault, access device fraud, abuse of a corpse, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and tampering with evidence in the Kunco case, Clemons faces burglary, robbery, theft and simple assault charges in connection with a home invasion in Canonsburg Jan. 8, 2012, and a charge of flight to avoid apprehension in connection with an alleged assault of Kunco in December 2011.

The prosecution is seeking the death penalty against Clemons in the homicide case.

Clemons remains in Washington County jail without bond.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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