Second hearing set on motion to suppress confession of teenage capital murder defendant

Dec. 2—Defense attorneys proclaimed their client's innocence of charges that he murdered his five family members Friday after a Limestone County judge said he will hear testimony Jan. 13 on their motion to exclude the defendant's confession and other evidence from the upcoming trial.

"The fear is that when all is said and done, an innocent 14-year-old, now 17 years old, has been locked up this entire time, and the responsible party is still out there," said Shay Golden, one of Mason Wayne Sisk's defense lawyers. "It scares me that they have had this kid drawn up as a monster for so long. In fact, this kid lost his family. We're going to double down and get to all of the truth out there. A Feb. 13 trial has been set. We'll be ready."

The first trial for Sisk, 14 at the time of the 2019 shootings, ended in a mistrial after the FBI unlocked the iPhone of the defendant's stepmother during the trial's fourth day. The defense has said the information on the phone was voluminous, but documented a good relationship between her and the defendant.

Defense attorneys for Sisk, who is facing five capital murder charges, said authorities illegally obtained statements and evidence from Sisk and they want the judge to rule that the statements and other evidence can't be presented to the jury at the Feb. 13 trial.

In a written order Friday afternoon, Circuit Judge Chad Wise set the Jan. 13 hearing date on the defense motion to suppress. Wise said the court will issue an order this week establishing a framework for the hearing including the state's request that the court consider prior testimony and exhibits. No witnesses were called to testify at Friday's hearing.

Sisk, who is being tried as an adult, is charged with the Sept. 2, 2019, shooting deaths of his father John Wayne Sisk, 38; his stepmother Mary Sisk, 35; his 6-year-old brother Kane; his 5-year-old sister Rorrie; and his 6-month-old brother Colson. The shootings occurred at the family's home on Ridge Road in Elkmont. All the victims were in bed when they were shot in the head, according to testimony.

Authorities said Mason Sisk initially told police he was in the basement playing video games when he heard gunshots and ran outside to see a vehicle pulling away, but he later told investigators he'd killed the five.

The defense has claimed Sisk in his confession only repeated to detectives what they had told him.

Following Friday's hearing, defense attorneys Golden and Michael Sizemore said law enforcement "browbeat and coerced" their client at the scene, in then-Sheriff Mike Blakely's truck and in the Limestone County Sheriff's Office before reading him his Miranda rights.

One of the pre-Miranda statements Sisk made to investigators, according to the defense, identified the location of the gun that prosecutors allege he used in the homicides. Consequently, they argue, the gun cannot be introduced as evidence during the jury trial.

"You can't browbeat or coerce somebody and keep out all of the browbeating and coercion and finally get them to do what you want them to do and then say it is OK because you gave them a (Miranda) warning just before they finally got beat down," Golden said. "If any of (the evidence) is tainted, all of it is tainted."

Sizemore said he wants Wise "to toss out all of (Sisk's) statements."

"The body-worn cameras have been a double-edged sword for the defense," he said. "There is a reason (law enforcement) uses body-worn cameras. There are 30-plus minutes of interactions with the chief law enforcement office of this county (between Blakely and Sisk) that are not recorded by any means at all. What happened in that truck? We don't know. Anything that happened in that truck was not recorded.

"You're talking about a 14-year-old child and the chief law enforcement officer in the county and everybody around had body cams on, but nothing inside the truck was recorded. What was talked about inside that truck? ... That's not the way things are supposed to operate. Mason is the surviving witness of a horrendous crime."

Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones said Wise will decide what additional witnesses need to testify in order for him to rule on the defense motion to suppress evidence.

"There's no reason to bring those same witnesses back in here to regurgitate what they testified to (in the previous trial)," Jones said.

He said the cellphones of Sisk's stepmother and father have been returned from the FBI and the defense can have their experts examine the phones.

"The judge is ordering (the defense) have access to them," he said. He said the father's phone is "fried."

"The FBI was not able to get into it," he said. "We don't know if it was fried before it was sent to the FBI or it happened (at the FBI office). We can't work it. The FBI had no luck with it."

In his written order Friday afternoon, Wise said the defense can inspect the cellphones at the Sheriff's Office "immediately."

Sizemore said 120 gigabytes of data were retrieved from Mary Sisk's phone.

"The information we have received about John's phone is that it might be permanently inaccessible," Golden said. "We will have to explore what other options we have that might be different from what the state has."

Jones said the handgun has been sent back to the forensics science office for more tests and "we expect it back by the middle of the month and then their experts can look at the gun."

Dressed in a Limestone County Jail jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, Sisk was ordered to provide saliva and hair samples for DNA following the Friday hearing. His mouth was swabbed twice, the left side then the right side, minutes after the hearing.

Sisk turns 18 on Dec. 25. or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.