A Florida judge partially suppressed a man’s confession to murdering his family, but this small victory for the defense later pivoted to a major defeat when the judge upheld a follow-up confession.
Anthony Todt, a physical therapist who worked in Connecticut but lived in Celebration, Florida, was found at home with his dead dead wife Meghan Todt, son Alek Todt, 13, son Tyler Todt, 11, and daughter Zoe Todt, 4, and family dog Breezy on Jan. 13, 2020. There was an eviction notice on their house, and authorities were after him for alleged health care fraud at the time.
Todt has blamed his wife for the killings in a letter to his father, but prosecutors said he also made repeated confessions to detectives in the mere hours and days after investigators found the bodies.
At the heart of Judge Keith A. Carsten‘s newly-reported ruling is Detective Cole Miller‘s incomplete administration of a Miranda warning when investigators first spoke to Todt at the hospital on Jan. 13, 2020. Miller did not have a Miranda card with him and tried to give the warnings from memory before questioning, according to the timeline outlined in court documents.
Miller took corrective steps at his colleague’s request, the court noted, and ultimately treated the mistake as a good-faith error that did not taint the rest of the communications with law enforcement.
“The Detective acknowledged that he neglected to advise the Defendant that anything he said to the Detective could be used against him in court, and if the Defendant could not afford an attorney, one would be provided for him before and during questioning,” the court wrote.
Miller testified he forgot to do this, and that it was not a scheme to coerce Todt to confess.
Amid an approximately 50 minute break after this first interview, Detective Ryan Quinn voiced concern outside the hospital room about the Miranda warning possibly missing elements. Miller delivered the Miranda warning again—correctly this time—when they picked up the interview again in another room of the hospital.
Miller testified that Todt never hesitated in speaking with detectives, he never said he did not want to talk, and he never asked for a lawyer.
In his ruling, Carsten tossed everything from before this 50 minute break. But while the suppression of a confession is usually good news for a defendant, it ended up being a big problem for Todt: he allegedly kept talking after detectives gave a complete Miranda warning, and again on Jan. 15, 2020 when detectives talked to him in a follow-up interview.
“On January 15, 2020, Detectives Cole Miller and Ryan Quinn obtained a second lengthy and recorded statement from the Defendant, during which he again detailed his participation in the homicides and death of the animal,” the judge wrote.
Carsten also determined that under case law, Todt was in a capable mental state to waive his Miranda rights after the proper warning and that he did not hesitate to talk.
“This is evidenced by the Defendant’s repeated statements to the Detectives indicating he wished to talk to them, wished to take responsibility, felt comfortable with the Detectives, and was not threatened at all by their presence or questions,” the court wrote.
When paramedics took Todt from his home on Jan. 13, he allegedly claimed that he had taken Benadryl in an attempt to die by suicide.
During an evidentiary hearing, both the prosecution and defense presented medical experts to testify about the impact the Benadryl might have had on Todt’s capacity to knowingly waive his Miranda rights.
The state’s expert, Dr. Bruce Goldberg, testified that although Todt appeared to be “not well” during the interview, his answers to law enforcement were consistent and appropriate to the questions asked, indicating that he had at least some degree of awareness of the situation.
Defense expert Dr. Susan Skolly-Danziger—who voiced concerns about Todt self-reporting visual hallucinations and claiming to have spoken to his late wife—testified that she believed Todt was under the influence of a Benadryl overdose during the Jan. 13 interview, and that his mental clarity was most likely affected. However, during cross-examination, she acknowledged that Todt could answer basic questions, such as the exact date and the identity of the president of the United States.
You can read the ruling, below.
[Booking photo via Osceola County Sheriff’s Office]
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