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Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The Anthony Baye Arson-Murder Confession

     Between December 27, 2009 and January 4, 2010 an arsonist in Northhamton, Massachusetts torched more than 40 homes. It was the biggest crime spree in the history of the town. One of the Ward 3 neighborhood fires took the lives of 81-year-old Paul Yeskie and his son Paul Jr. who was 39. Police officers patrolling Ward 3 during the early morning hours on four of the arson fire nights pulled over a vehicle driven by 26-year-old Anthony P. Baye. These investigative stops did not result in Mr. Baye's arrest.

     Anthony Baye was brought in for questioning on January 4, 2010 by Massachusetts State Police sergeant Paul Zipper and Trooper Michael Mazza. After he was warned of his Miranda rights to remain silent and his right to an attorney, the suspect asked to speak to a lawyer. The officers, instead of terminating the interrogation at that point informed Anthony Baye that he would be better off speaking to them first. They assured him that if he took responsibility for setting the fires the judge would go easy on him. Utilizing this confession inducing technique (developed by Fred Inbau in the 1930s) of minimizing the seriousness of the crime (referring to the arsons as "tomfoolery"), the troopers got Mr. Baye to admit setting 15 of the fires.

     While Anthony Baye didn't come out and admit setting fire that killed Mr. Yeskie and his son, he did say he never meant to do them any harm. In soliciting the arson-murder confession one of the interrogators misrepresented the criminal law when he assured Baye that if he hadn't intended to kill the Yeskies he could not be charged with felony-murder. (This was not true. Under Massachusetts law, if Baye had intended to set the fire which inadvertently led to their deaths he was guilty of criminal homicide under the felony-murder doctrine.)

     Following the ten hour videotaped interrogation the state troopers took Anthony Baye into custody. The local prosecutor charged him with two counts of first-degree murder and several counts of arson. Given the seriousness of the crimes Mr. Baye was not granted bail.

      Anthony Baye's attorneys, Thomas Lesser and David Hoose, on grounds the state interrogators had violated their client's Fifth and Six Amendment rights by not discontinuing the interrogation and providing him with an attorney when he requested one, filed a motion to suppress the confession.

     On September 21, 2011 Hampshire Superior Court Judge Constance B. Sweeney heard arguments on the defendant's motion to suppress. At the conclusion of the pre-trial hearing Judge Sweeney, while expressing reservations regarding the troopers' interrogation techniques, ruled Baye's confession voluntary and therefore admissible. The defense appealed Judge Sweeney's ruling to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which agreed to rule on the admissibility of the confession before rather than after his trial.

     On May 21, 2012 the Massachusetts Supreme Court Justices ruled the Baye confession had not been given voluntarily and was therefore inadmissible as evidence against him. Although the justices didn't specifically rule on the issue of whether continuing the interrogation after Baye requested an attorney rendered it inadmissible, the constitutional law on this issue was settled. In the Baye case the state interrogators had clearly violated his Miranda rights. Under Miranda a confession can be inadmissible even though it was given voluntarily. Once a suspect exercises his Miranda rights the interrogation must stop. Anything said by the suspect after this point is not admissible evidence regardless of the fact no coercion was involved.

     One year after the state supreme court ruled Anthony Baye's confession inadmissible, the defendant, pursuant to a plea agreement, pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter. On May 15, 2013 the Hampshire Superior Court judge sentenced Anthony P. Baye to twenty years in prison followed by fifteen years of probation.

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