Trial Delayed in Infant Death Case

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Trial of a man accused in the abuse killing of his girlfriend's daughter has been delayed pending an appeal of a judge's ruling that authorities violated his rights.

Washoe District Judge Jerry Polaha earlier suppressed statements Arnold Preston Bertnick made to authorities, agreeing with his defense lawyer that Sparks police coerced a confession from him.

Prosecutors dispute the ruling and are appealing it to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Bertnick's trial was to have started this week for the February 2002 death of two-year-old Asiamae Basa.

Authorities said Bertnick and the child's mother took the little girl to the hospital after she stopped breathing. Medical experts determined she was a victim of child abuse. Pathologists said she had numerous bruises and suffered internal bleeding.

The child's mother, Tiffany Lynn Basa, 24, pleaded guilty to felony child neglect and was sentenced to eight to 20 years in prison.

During a hearing in April, Chief Deputy Public Defender Maizie Pusich told the judge that Bertnick had not eaten or slept and had taken a prescription drug, Valium, before being taken in for a second interview with Sparks police.

"He was tired. He was grief-stricken. He wasn't making a great deal of sense, "Pusich told the Reno-Gazette Journal.

The officers began asking questions, she said, and soon told Bertnick that he had the right to have a lawyer present if he wanted.

When Bertnick said he wanted one, the officers pulled back and told him they wouldn't show him the autopsy results and cause of death _ something Bertnick was eager to learn, she said.

"That's coercive, "Pusich told the judge. "That is what makes it involuntary and suppressible."

Polaha agreed that police mishandled the interview.

Deputy District Attorney Cheryl Hier-Johnson immediately asked the judge to put the case on hold while she appealed his ruling. Polaha granted her request.

The prosecutor had objected to the motion to suppress, arguing that there "are not facts documenting any coercive law enforcement conduct," she said. If Bertnick was in a weakened state, she said, it was his own doing.

"Sparks police had no hand in creating nor aggravating his alleged condition," she told the judge.

The information police gained during the interview is important and should be used at the trial, she said.


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