The Oregon Court of Appeals Wednesday announced it was remanding a case back to Washington County Circuit Court after deciding that a man convicted of murder gave an involuntary confession.
Eloy Vasquez-Santiago, a Mexican immigrant, was arrested in 2012, suspected of murdering Maria Bolanos-Rivera. He was convicted and sentenced in 2015 to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years.
The Oregon Court of Appeals has decided to overturn that conviction.
Bolanos-Rivera and Vasquez-Santiago worked together at a berry farm, according to court documents. She had left home one morning in August 2012 after talking to Vasquez-Santiago over the phone and never returned. Her body was never found.
After Bolanos-Rivera’s disappearance, Vasquez-Santiago and his family abruptly left their home in Woodburn and went to California, where his brother and father were arrested on unrelated charges.
Vasquez-Santiago then continued to Mexico on his own. According to court documents, his brother and father said that he had called them and told them he killed Bolanos-Rivera.
While in Mexico, Vasquez-Santiago contacted a Hillsboro Police detective, expressing concern that his father, brother and infant son were all in police custody. Even though his son was not in custody, police did not correct Vasquez-Santiago, court documents said.
“Police communicated to defendant — an illiterate, immigrant man with an IQ of 53, a number associated with mental retardation and significantly subaverage intellectual functioning — that three members of his family, including his infant son, were in custody, that his entire family was suffering as a result, and that the key to securing the family members’ release and ending that suffering was for defendant to confess to the murder,” The Court of Appeals' opinion reads. “In defendant’s view, a confession obtained under those circumstances is involuntary and therefore inadmissible under Oregon law […] we agree with defendant.”
The opinion states police detectives told Vasquez-Santiago that his father and brother would need to be detained because they were “witnesses” in the case — not because they were already being held on unrelated charges.
“I can’t let your family go until I find that body,” one of the detectives said in interrogation transcripts. “And not until I get the truth from you.”
The Washington County District Attorney’s Office did not agree with the Court of Appeals’ ruling.
“This office agrees with Trial Judge Donald Letourneau’s original ruling that Eloy Vasquez-Santiago’s confession was given freely and voluntarily,” the DA’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “Furthermore, this office is hopeful that the Oregon Supreme Court will review this case and provide further guidance in this area of law.”
The Oregon Attorney General’s office will decide whether or not to appeal the appellate court’s ruling.