RIVERTON — A woman accused of killing her husband with a knife in their Pavillion home on Christmas Eve has asked to have her confession removed from trial evidence.
Through her attorney, Bennilee Strock argued Tuesday that she had asked for a lawyer prior to her confession but didn’t get one.
According to arguments made during a Tuesday suppression hearing in Fremont County District Court, the following discussion occurred between Strock and Fremont County Sheriff’s Office detective Anthony Armstrong after the latter allowed her to review her Miranda rights at the Riverton-based Sheriff’s office early Christmas morning:
Armstrong: “I want to get your side of what happened.”
Strock: “But I want to tell you what happened, but I want my lawyer here too.”
Strock: “You know I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Armstrong: “I don’t know that.”
Strock: “Well I do want him to witness what I say.”
Armstrong: “I don’t understand.”
Public defender Valerie Schoneberger argued that Strock’s request for legal counsel was unequivocal, and because no lawyer was sent to Strock that night, her subsequent confession is inadmissible as trial evidence.
“Detective Armstrong responded by feigning not to understand what she is saying and proceeded with the interview,” Schoneberger wrote in her motion to suppress evidence.
Schoneberger also argued that Strock was too intoxicated at the time to give a voluntary interview and noted that about an hour elapsed on the interview video recording before Armstrong read Strock her Miranda warnings.
Armstrong clarified in court that much of that time was spent either “building rapport” or dashing in and out of the office making phone calls, history checks and other arrangements.
At some point while Armstrong was not in the room, the video recording captured what listeners interpreted as Strock saying, “I don’t know what would make him come in and bring a knife to me,” and “Do it, do it,” and “Grab it in your hand.”
The detective said he allowed Strock to read her own Miranda rights aloud as soon as he was ready to transition into questioning that might incriminate her.
Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun argued that Strock did not make her request for legal counsel unequivocally, as U.S. and Wyoming case law requires. He filed an opposition to Schoneberger’s motion, citing the original Miranda v Arizona case in which the United States Supreme Court wrote that a defendant “having expressed his desire to deal with the police only through counsel, is not subject to further interrogation by the authorities until counsel has been made available to him – unless the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police.”
LeBrun argued that Strock had done just that: reinitiate the conversation on her own.
He also wrote that Strock’s request for counsel was ambiguous, bookended and contradicted by “two statements strongly indicative that (she) wanted to speak to detective Armstrong right then,” and he countered Schoneberger’s claim that Strock was too drunk to interview voluntarily by referring to Strock’s attempts to craft her own defense theory.
If Wyoming District Court Judge Marvin Tyler rules that Strock’s request for counsel was made clearly, her confession could not be heard by a jury. He has not yet ruled on the topic.
Reportedly, Strock told Armstrong that, after a night of drinking at the bar with her husband, Jeffrey Strock, the couple got into an argument. When the pair arrived home, Bennilee Strock said she retrieved a kitchen knife, walked to the bedroom and stabbed Jeffrey Strock in the chest.
A police report penned by FSO deputy Jesse YoungChief indicates he and other personnel found Jeffrey Strock in his bedroom with a stab wound in his upper chest, as a neighbor attempted to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on him.
FSO deputy Greg Scott was asked to take over CPR duties, even as Bennilee Strock tried performing CPR on her husband as well. Bennilee Strock was removed from the bedroom, then handcuffed and escorted to Riverton in YoungChief’s patrol vehicle.
YoungChief wrote that Strock monologued on the way to town.
“Come on honey, you are tough,” the deputy recalled Strock saying, then, “Come on Jeffrey, you are tough.”
“We should of (sic) never went to the bar, we should of (sic) just came home,” YoungChief recalled the defendant saying.
She cried during her monologue but stopped crying once she got to the Riverton FSO facility, YoungChief wrote.
Once inside, Strock asked to speak with a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer, because she is an enrolled tribal member, but Scott informed her that because the fatality had occurred on state land, the BIA has no jurisdiction over the case. Strock’s handcuffs were removed prior to questioning, according to YoungChief’s report.