Travis County state District Judge David Wahlberg has ruled once before to suppress key statements Meagan Work made to police who were investigating the disappearance of her 2-year-old son in 2014.
Tuesday, the judge signaled he might do it again.
Saving his toughest questions for the prosecutors, Wahlberg said at a hearing that he still has concerns about the way Work was treated when Cedar Park police continued to question her long after she had lied about the whereabouts of her son, Colton Brandt Turner, who was later found buried in a shallow grave in South Austin. Wahlberg said he’ll review additional evidence before announcing his decision on March 21, but revealed his “preliminary conclusion” is Work should have been taken before a magistrate on a misdemeanor charge for lying to officers. She then would have been released from jail on a personal bond and would have no longer been in the custody of investigators.
But instead, Work did not see a magistrate until nearly 50 hours after authorities say she was under arrest.
“I agree the police department was trying to locate the child,” Wahlberg said. “That doesn’t excuse not taking her before a magistrate.”
Wahlberg also expressed concern about the credibility of the investigation. The judge pointed out that Work was interviewed by Cedar Park police Detective Chris Dailey, who has been ripped by the Texas Rangers for not looking into other potential suspects in the Greg Kelley sexual assault case. Kelley, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison, has been released on bond while he seeks to have his conviction overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Two other potential suspects identified by the Rangers were never vetted by Cedar Park police in the Kelley case.
Wahlberg’s comment drew a quick response from prosecutor Victoria Winkeler. “They’re very distinct and different cases,” she said.
Wahlberg ended the conversation: “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Wahlberg has ruled once before to suppress Work’s statements, but was reversed by higher courts.
In 2015, the judge had found Work was arrested unlawfully, and he tossed out many of her statements to detectives, including her admission of taking steps to hide the deceased child.
But in December 2016, the 3rd Court of Appeals reversed Wahlberg’s ruling, concluding that Work’s arrest was legal because it was apparent she had lied to investigators when she said her son was with a friend out of town. The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the 3rd Court’s ruling in September 2017.
Work, charged with tampering with physical evidence and injury to a child, has pleaded not guilty and refused the prosecution’s offer for a 50-year prison sentence. Her boyfriend, Michael Turner, was sentenced to 20 years after pleading guilty in 2016 to injury to a child by reckless omission.
Wahlberg’s impending ruling — whatever he decides — could trigger more delays if the losing side appeals. Prosecutors declined to comment outside of court.
Before leaving the courthouse, defense attorney Ariel Payan said that, at a minimum, the judge should toss out Work’s final statement to Austin police that contains “things the state definitely wants to use.” Payan had argued a defendant must go before a magistrate judge without any unnecessary delays, and in no longer than 48 hours.
Winkeler said the delay was necessary because police were searching for the child.
The motion, which was presented by Work’s team, also makes claims that detectives misrepresented the law when they indicated Work would have to hire her own lawyer and did not qualify for a court-appointed lawyer.
Wahlberg partially disagreed, saying Work did not make an “unequivocal” request for an attorney. He indicated he found it more troubling that she was not taken before a magistrate within an appropriate amount of time.