Court Says Suspect's Statement Coerced

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Prosecutors cannot use statements made to police by a man charged with killing his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter, the Nevada Supreme Court has ruled.

Wednesday's ruling by the high court said a Sparks detective violated Arnold Bertnick's rights by using coercive and deceptive tactics during an interview about the February 2002 death of Asiamae Basa.

The court's ruling upholds a previous order by Washoe District Judge Jerry Polaha suppressing Bertnick's statements to police. Bertnick's trial was postponed last July while prosecutors appealed.

Deputy District Attorney Cheryl Wilson said it was too early to tell whether the ruling would affect the case against Bertnick.

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, pleaded guilty to felony child neglect and was sentenced to eight to 20 years in prison.

Bertnick had not been charged when Sparks police Detective Dennis Hohnholz questioned him the day the child died, John Petty, an appellate lawyer with the Washoe County Public Defender's Office, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

After the interview started, Bertnick said he wanted a lawyer, but Hohnholz said he couldn't provide any information about how the child died if a lawyer was called, according to a transcript of the interview.

"He talks him out of that request," Petty said of the detective. "And then Bertnick makes incriminating statements.

"All questioning should have stopped."

During Bertnick's preliminary hearing, Hohnholz testified that Bertnick admitted he slapped Asiamae on the buttocks during potty training and poked her in the stomach when she was fussy at nap time.

He also said Bertnick said he slammed the child on the floor when she violated napping rules.