OAKLAND — Judge Thomas Reardon of Alameda County Superior Court dismissed a motion Thursday to suppress video footage and transcripts of a police interrogation of Michael Diggs, 29, who is now the sole defendant on trial for the murder of 54-year-old Sylvan Fuselier.
Fuselier was killed sometime between the night of Feb. 21 and the morning of Feb. 22, although police did not discover his body until about a week later. The case marked the city’s first of two homicides thus far in 2014.
Diggs was arrested March 12 for allegedly violating parole and possessing burglary tools, but he didn’t become a suspect in the homicide case until March 21, when the county crime lab matched two fingerprints at the scene to his. More than a week later, he was brought in for questioning at the Berkeley Police Department station.
In transcripts of the interrogation obtained by The Daily Californian on Thursday, Diggs confessed to killing Fuselier with a hatchet. Without an attorney present and after hours of questioning, Diggs told police that he “just fucking snapped” after Fuselier attempted to sexually assault Kneitawnye Sessoms, 41, who has been romantically involved with Diggs.
Sessoms was a codefendant in the case until Thursday, when Reardon dismissed the murder charge against her.
“His perversion was way past over the line. It was borderline rape,” Diggs said in the interrogation. “We all know the dude’s not living anymore. We know that.”
The couple, who were both homeless at the time, came with Fuselier to his apartment, where Diggs and Fuselier used drugs, according to the transcript. During the interview, Diggs told police that Sessoms was showering inside Fuselier’s apartment when Fuselier went to the bathroom, which was followed by Diggs hearing noises.
“I can hear just from the way she’s — her voice is — it’s just that uncomfortability in her whole everything,” Diggs said during the interrogation.
According to the transcripts, Fuselier exited the bathroom “butt naked,” after which Diggs said he took a hatchet to the victim’s head.
But Chris Lamiero, Alameda County deputy district attorney, said the location where Diggs purportedly confessed he killed the victim was not consistent with physical evidence at the scene. Lamiero said it was possible Fuselier was struck when he was asleep, eventually waking up and sustaining defensive wounds.
In the interrogation, Diggs repeatedly said Sessoms had no involvement with the murder. He said that after Fuselier was murdered, she sat in the bathroom for half an hour.
“And she was just shakin’ and all completely just fucked up,” Diggs said to police in the interview.
Diggs told police during the interrogation that he had previously been placed in John George Psychiatric Hospital because he thought he was saving a girl from being kidnapped.
When crime scene detectives investigated the premises Feb. 28, they found Fuselier’s body in an opened robe with his genitals exposed. According to his girlfriend, Brenda Williams, the body was found in the place and position where he usually slept: in the living room with his feet toward the television and head toward the couch.
Williams told BPD Sgt. Peter Hong that Fuselier began sleeping in the living room because he was paranoid that his downstairs neighbors were listening to him while he was in the bedroom. She also said Fuselier, whose eviction was pending at the time of his murder, was a packrat. When police investigated the apartment, it was in disarray, with buckets of water around the house to wash clothing Fuselier had urinated on while inebriated.
Diggs’ attorneys Andrew Steckler and Sydney Levin filed a 1538.5 motion to suppress the interrogation from evidence on the grounds that Diggs involuntarily confessed by product of coercion. They argued in court Thursday that their client had been detained for an unlawful period of time for the alleged parole violation and burglary tool possession, which they said violated due process.
Hong, who was assigned to the case, contacted a parole supervisor in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on March 26 to hold Diggs for as long as possible for the parole violation, not the homicide. Hong testified he was concerned that if word leaked that Diggs was suspected of murder, it would reach the female suspect, whom police had not yet identified.
Although the earlier alleged violations were unrelated to the murder case, Steckler and Levin argued that Diggs’ lengthy detention affected his mentality during the interrogation. They also said police made implicit promises about giving Sessoms leniency should Diggs confess.
“It’s certainly an interesting set of legal circumstances,” Reardon said after hearing the arguments.
The judge ultimately ruled to keep the interrogation as evidence. Diggs’ next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 6.