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Attorney hopes to get confessional statements thrown out in Briard case

A contested omnibus hearing in the Robert Briard criminal sexual conduct case Wednesday didn't go quite as the defense would have liked.

In a bid to get confessional statements thrown out, defense attorney Peter W. Cannon spent about 90 minutes grilling Becker County Sheriff's investigator John Sieling, trying to garner ammunition for a motion that the investigator used techniques that "shocked the conscience."

But judging from testimony at the hearing, the success of the motion appears to a bit of a long shot.

Briard, 61, a well-known hog farmer who lives at 38501 County Road 56, Frazee is charged with several serious felony counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

In the summer of 2004 he allegedly touched the sexual area of a girl under the age of 10 after starting by rubbing her legs, according to court records.

He is also accused of contact with a girl in 1983 and again in 1989. She was under the age of 10 at the time of the first incident, which involved touching her private parts under her clothing.

He allegedly told an investigator that he remembered the 1983 incident, but didn't remember if the touching was under or through the clothing.

The incident in 1989 involved him allegedly going into the girl's bedroom and engaging in sexual contact with her, according to court records.

He also faces gross misdemeanor sexual conduct charges for alleged intimate touching and kissing of a woman without her consent on three separate occasions over several years.

In late August, Cannon filed a motion with the court seeking suppression of Briard's confessional statements, arguing they were made "as a result of inherent undue coercion" because, during an interview with Briard, the investigator implied that Briard's pastor had talked to the investigator about the allegations, breaching minister-parishioner confidentiality.

"You were 'implying that the confessional seal has been breached,'" Cannon said.

"I did not imply that, and we later had a conversation about that," Sieling said. "I told him no (it had not been breached)."

"It was your intent to leave Mr. Briard with the impression that the minister had told you everything," Cannon said.

"That was not my intent," Sieling said.

Sieling said that he mentioned during his interview with Briard that he had talked to the pastor -- along with several other people -- all of whom were concerned about the situation.

Cannon was working off a different transcript of the interview than the prosecution because he had issues with the Becker County version and hired a Mahnomen County transcriptionist to redo it.

District Judge Mark Hansen allowed the differing transcripts only for the limited purposes of the contested omnibus hearing.

Near the start of the proceedings, Cannon asked Sieling why he had not arrested Briard prior to the interview, since the investigator had already talked to the alleged victims.

Sieling said he "possibly" had probable cause to make an arrest at that time, and denied that he was avoiding having to read Briard his Miranda rights, because he might have quit talking.

Cannon also made several allusions to Sieling using "the Reid technique," which is often used by criminal investigators and lays out nine steps or issues guiding interrogation. At an earlier hearing, Sieling said he has had some training in the technique, but did not consciously use it when talking to Briard.

"Several times you told Briard he could get help," Cannon said. "That's also part of the Reid technique. You didn't tell him it would be sexual offender treatment in prison."

Assistant County Attorney Mike Fritz objected several times during the proceedings. Had Sieling openly used all nine steps in the Reid technique, that would be perfectly legal, he said.

"The appellate court has ruled that the use of the Reid technique does not render a confession unvoluntary," Fritz said.

"I think it's pointless to go back and forth with this witness with statements that speak for themselves," Fritz added. "It's not relevant, it does not meet the standards for overturning voluntary confessions."

"Our position is that Mr. Briard was confused and the officer should have explained things better to him," Cannon said. "By implying breaking of ministerial privilege over and over, it shocks my conscience -- I don't know about anyone else."

But the judge also appeared to grow weary of the defense attempts to pick apart the transcript via Sieling on the stand.

Several times, Hansen asked Cannon to stick to the point, or to move things along a little faster.

"Much of this speaks for itself," Hansen said of the interview in question. "Would it not be better to submit to the court the motion with the taped statement, which we have? I understand quite clearly where you're going, and your argument on the penitent privilege."

As far as the differing transcripts, Hansen said he would listen to the taped interview and decide for himself which version is correct.

He granted the defense 60 days to prepare its motion, and the prosecution will then have two weeks to file its response.

The defense has also filed 32 other motions in the case, involving things like who should be allowed to testify, which statements should be redacted, and in what order the charges should be brought.