BRADENTON — Police had found a 16-year-old boy shot and paralyzed in the doorway of a Bradenton home, with a 55-year-old woman also shot to death inside.
The teenager, Ta Heem Blake, had stormed the home of Maria Lerma in the 900 block of 25th Street East, with a rifle and opened fire on the woman during a robbery, according to Bradenton Police reports. During the attack on Feb. 1, 2009, Lerma’s son opened fire on Blake as he tried to run from the house, witnesses in the home told police.
The bullet tore into Blake and left him paralyzed. Witnesses also said a second man had entered the home with Blake, but that person could not be found. Blake was hospitalized and later charged with murder.
But Blake’s cell phone next to his body led Bradenton Police detectives the next day to Palmetto High School, where Blake had attended and played football, according to testimony by Bradenton Police Detective Kevin Bunch in court Thursday.
Detectives went to the school Feb. 2, and asked a school resource officer if other students could identify a nickname found on a text message on Blake’s phone. The nickname came back to Marquis Sanders, another Palmetto High student and former football player.
Sanders, then 18, soon found himself face to face in a school conference room with Bunch and another Bradenton Police detective, James Curulla.
Events that took place during that encounter were at issue in court Thursday as police later arrested Sanders on a murder charge in Lerma’s death.
Prosecutors say Sanders, now 19, admitted to entering Lerma’s home with Blake also armed with a weapon and acted as a lookout while Blake rummaged through rooms, before opening fire on Lerma. Police do not believe Sanders fired his weapon, and he later took police to the gun he held during the attack, according to police reports.
Sanders’ murder trial begins Monday with jury selection and on Thursday his defense attorney claimed his confession should be thrown out, claiming Curulla and Bunch did not read the teen his Miranda rights, which outlines a person’s right to remain silent.
In court Thursday, Sanders took the stand and told his attorney he was not read his rights before an ensuing interrogation at the police department and in Curulla’s police car. Both Bunch and Curulla testified Sanders had been read his rights.
“At any point did they read you your Miranda rights,” Sanders’ attorney Masable Baker asked his client.
“No, sir,” Sanders answered.
Assistant State Attorney Art Brown then turned to a video-taped interview between police and Sanders on Feb. 2 in which he changed his story from initially saying he had not been with Blake on the night of the shooting, to admitting to entering Lerma’s home and hearing shots.
“You were lying to police to avoid arrest and prosecution, were you not?” Brown asked Sanders. “I was lying because I was scared,” he answered.
“Scared of being arrested and prosecuted for these serious crimes,” Brown responded. “Yes, sir.”
“Isn’t that the your same motive today,” Brown asked. “No, sir,” Sanders answered.
Brown argued that it came down to a “credibility contest” between police and Sanders as to whether Bunch read him his rights. He argued Sanders had already lied to police.
“He has a track record of giving false information in this case,” Brown told Circuit Judge Debra Riva.
Riva ruled in favor of the police, allowing Sanders’ statement to police to be admissible at trial next week.