SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday overturned a Norwalk man's first-degree murder convictions for killing his estranged wife and an off-duty Los Angeles sheriff's deputy because detectives failed to properly advise him of his legal rights before he confessed.
Reuben Kenneth Lujan was sentenced to life without parole for killing his estranged wife, Monica, 26, and her friend, deputy Gilbert Madrigal, 45, by smashing their heads with a concrete block.
Still in prison, Lujan could have his conviction reduced to a lesser crime, such as second-degree murder, or be retried.
Lujan had been accused of stalking his wife after they separated and allegedly had threatened to kill her, but a judge refused to give her a restraining order because she hadn't provided enough documentation.
After his arrest for the 1998 killings, Lujan met with detectives at the Norwalk Sheriff's Station. During the first interview, a detective told him he had the right to remain silent and to have a lawyer appointed free of charge. During a third interview, in which Lujan confessed, he asked for a lawyer.
"You feel you need one?" a detective asked.
"Yes, I do," Lujan said.
"OK," the detective replied. "All right. If that's what you want to do, we'll do that."
"Can I get one in here today?" Lujan asked.
"I really doubt it," the detective said. "I mean, I'm going to be honest with you. It's Sunday evening. When you go to court in a couple of days there will be one appointed for you. That's the way the system is set up...
"If you want to call and hire an attorney, that's fine. If you want to make a statement without an attorney, that's up to you. I doubt that if you hire an attorney they'll let you make a statement; they usually don't. That's the way it goes. So, that's your prerogative; that's your choice. Now, if you do want to talk to me without an attorney, that's your choice. You can just tell the jailer, 'Hey, I'd like to talk to the detectives without an attorney present.' OK? That's your choice."
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused to strike the confession, and Lujan testified about it during his trial, essentially confessing a second time.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Tuesday with a federal district judge that both confessions had to be stricken because the first was obtained in violation of Lujan's Miranda rights and the second was an attempt to explain his earlier admissions.
The panel said it would be up to a Superior Court judge to decide whether his conviction and sentence could be lightened.