Suspect in killing of 4-year-old seeks to suppress statements
CHAMBERLAIN — Attorneys for a woman accused of beating a 4-year-old child to death because he wet his pants are seeking to suppress statements the woman made to law enforcement.
Donika Gonzales, 22, is accused of slapping, kicking, shoving and stomping 4-year-old Mason Naser, a child living in her home, to death on Feb. 21. She pleaded not guilty last month to seconddegree murder, first-degree manslaughter, aggravated assault and felony child abuse.
Second-degree murder, the most serious of the charges, carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison upon conviction.
At a hearing Friday at the Brule County Courthouse in Chamberlain, Gonzales’ attorneys, Randy Stiles and Donna Bucher, both of Mitchell, asked Judge Bruce Anderson to suppress statements Gonzales made to investigators during an interview at a Chamberlain hospital the night of the 4-year-old’s death. They have also asked Anderson to throw out statements Gonzales made to Buffalo County Sheriff Wayne Willman that same night.
Guy DiBenedetto, an agent with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, conducted the interview with Gonzales at the hospital. He testified Friday that Gonzales was read her Miranda rights prior to the interview, even though she was not technically under arrest at the time.
“I had informed her that she was not under arrest, and did not have to talk to me,” he said.
At one point during the interview, Gonzales became frustrated and told investigators she was done talking, DiBenedetto said.
Gonzales was arrested following the interview, which lasted approximately two hours, DiBenedetto said.
Willman transported Gonzales to the jail in Chamberlain following her interview with DCI. During the trip, Willman testified, Gonzales began speaking to him about her alleged crime.
He said Gonzales told him she didn’t know why she had beaten the child.
“She said that she screwed up her whole life because of this,” he said.
Once they arrived at the jail, Gonzales continued to ask Willman questions about what charges she might face or when she might be released, he said. At the time, Willman said he was unsure if Gonzales had been read her Miranda rights.
As Gonzales waited to be booked at the jail, Willman told DCI Agent Jason Even that she was voluntarily talking. Even loaned Willman an activated handheld recorder, which Willman said he hid in his pocket.
Even, who also testified Friday, told Willman only to listen to Gonzales and not ask any questions. Willman did admit Friday that he asked Gonzales one question after he returned to her with the recorder, but only after she had initiated a conversation.
Anderson did not immediately decide whether to suppress Gonzales’ statements. Both sides will file briefs on the matter and a decision will be issued at a later date. Gonzales is scheduled to stand trial in February.