Judge to consider whether Samantha Wilson's statements to police – shortly after the death of Jonah Borth – can be used
Samantha Wilson, accused of shooting and killing Grand Forks teen Jonah Borth in her Northwood home last year, appeared in court on Wednesday, Feb. 24, where her attorney argued that police illegally questioned her at the scene of the crime. The attorney asked a judge to suppress the answers she gave to officers before being read her rights.
A judge will consider whether Samantha Wilson's answers to on-scene police interviews the night 15-year-old Jonah Borth was killed can be used against her in trial this fall. In a hearing Wednesday, Feb. 24, Wilson's defense argued that a Grand Forks County deputy sheriff violated her rights when he failed to Mirandize Wilson before questioning her.
Defense attorney Rhiannon Gorham argued that because Wilson was not free to leave, she was in police custody and therefore should have been read her rights before speaking to police. Grand Forks County Deputy State's Attorney Carmell Mattison argued that the conversation between Wilson and the officer was relaxed, not coercive, and intended to keep her calm until investigators arrived, rather than gain investigative information. Mattison says it didn't necessitate a Miranda warning.
Wilson, 32, is facing up to life in prison without parole for the murder of Borth, who was killed by a gunshot wound to his upper chest on Jan. 26, 2020, in Wilson's Northwood home. She faces an additional five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted of spitting on a Grand Forks County correctional officer.
Court documents show that besides Borth, four people were in the house at the time: Wilson; Borth's father, Ray "Perry" Borth; and Wilson's two 8-year-old children.
The incident was called in as a accidental shooting, and an affidavit of probable cause states that in a forensic interview, Wilson said she believed Borth was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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GFSO Deputy Alekzander Harvey testified Wednesday that when he arrived at Wilson's Northwood residence just before 10 p.m. Jan. 26, Wilson was standing in the open front door, hysterically crying and covered in blood. He wasn't the first person on scene – paramedics and a few other officers had already arrived – but with most attention turned toward rendering aid to Borth in the dining room, he believes he was the first officer to speak with Wilson.
Harvey said he guided her to a couch in the living room, testifying that he reasoned putting her there would keep her out of the doorway and out of the way of paramedics, would keep her from disrupting the crime scene in her dining room, and would keep her away from Perry Borth, who was with police in the garage.
Harvey described her behavior as emotionally unstable, and noted without elaborating that she appeared to be under the influence of a substance, oscillating between crying and hyperventilating, being combative, and seeming calm and tired. He estimated he sat with her for about two hours talking with her about her family and her pets until she eventually fell asleep on the couch. He testified that he did not read her her rights during this time.
GFSO Investigator Jacob Lanes said when he arrived at the residence around midnight, he learned from other officers on the scene Wilson was considered a suspect. He awoke her, still covered in blood, explained her rights to her, and engaged in a "passive" interrogation in her living room, he testified Wednesday. The interview lasted about two hours. He testified she seemed to understand her rights, what was happening and the questions he was asking her, and seemed to give her answers voluntarily.
Both conversations with Harvey and Lanes were caught on Harvey's body camera, and five hours of footage were submitted to District Judge Jay Knudson for him to review. He said he intended to do more legal research into the issue before making a decision on whether Wilson's answers to police questions that she gave prior to being Mirandized could be suppressed.
"I understand the arguments from both sides," Knudson said. "The defense is saying this is custodial interrogation, she wasn't Mirandized, we can't allow those statements to come in. The state is saying this is general questioning on the scene when the officers arrive. Is there an exception when we have a situation like we do in this case when someone reports a shooting, is there an exception for law enforcement to ask questions to figure out if the public is at risk? Or for law enforcement to ask questions when there are active attempts being made to save someone’s life? I don’t know the answer to that."
A trial had initially been set for a week and a half in June, but will be moved to a to-be-determined date in early fall due to a heavy summer trial calendar and the defense's request for additional time to fully go over new evidence. Wilson consented and waived her right to a speedy trial.