Judge to decide validity of Riverton man’s murder confession

RIVERTON  – Accused of shooting his friend in the head, Mario Mills, 37, has disputed whether the confession he made during a police interview can be used in court under constitutional parameters. 

“Oh (expletive)… I shot Trevor” is the statement of confession Mills gave to a Riverton Police Department detective during his March 26 interview – hours after Mills’ best friend was found dead in the former’s garage on Sunset Drive in Riverton. 

Thirty-seven-year-old Trevor Bartlett had been drinking with Mills and his wife the night of March 25. Mills’ wife went to bed before midnight, according to all statements given, and woke sometime after Bartlett had died of a gunshot wound to his left temple. 

During his interview, Mills spent about half an hour insisting that Bartlett was “in a dark place” philosophically and had killed himself in the garage after Mills went to bed. 

According to a request from the defense for Fremont County District Court Judge Jason Conder to disregard Mills’ RPD interview, Mills was “still drunk from the night before (and) could not remember many details of the night in question.” 

The plea argues further that Mills was operating on seven wakeful hours and only two hours of sleep. 

“Even so,” wrote defense attorneys “(the detective) started to interrogate an exhausted, hungover Mario about an evening he could barely remember.” 

The filing was submitted in late June by Mills’ attorneys Donald fuller, Robert Oldham, and Ryan Semerad. 

The dispute soon to be heard by the judge is whether the RPD detective’s actions would have made a reasonable person believe that he was not free to leave the interview. 

If Conder decides Mills had reason to believe he was being confined, the interview will be thrown out of the evidence pool because it was not preceded by a reading of Mills’ Miranda rights.

“(The detective) prohibited Mario from leaving the interview room, from talking to his wife or making any phone calls, and even from stepping outside the police station to smoke a cigarette,” the motion reads. 

In his own filing dated July 13, Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun, who is prosecuting Mills, wrote that those limitations to Mills’s freedom came after, not before, Mills confessed to shooting his friend.

The “defendant was told he could not speak to his wife or have a cigarette, however, these statements were made to him after he had confessed and detailed his killing of Mr. Bartlett,” countered LeBrun, adding that Mills was then “formally placed under arrest” at the end of the interview. 

LeBrun also called the detective’s questioning “limited and non-threatening.” 

The filing by the defense sheds more detail upon Mills’ relationship with his friend. 

“Mario described getting into an argument with Trevor because Trevor wanted to take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Alzada, Montana and Mario did not want to go,” it reads. 

Mills told the detective that Bartlett often discussed committing suicide and that he, Mills, often tried to help him out of that thinking.

In a moment of frustration during the drunken argument of March 25-26, Mills remembered taking out his Glock .45 pistol and challenging Bartlett to “just do it already.” 

Mills told his interviewer that he said that to scare Bartlett out of suicide, to drive home the reality of it. 

“He remembered arguing with Trevor about Trevor wanting to kill himself, taking out the gun, setting the gun down beside Trevor, then heading inside the house to go to bed” around midnight, leaving Bartlett alone in the garage with the gun, the defense filing reads. 

Mills changed that story later, and stated that he’d argued with his friend and eventually shot and killed him. 

He also said Bartlett had “expressed a desire to kill some of his family and friends,” attorneys wrote. 

Defense attorneys listed the detective’s reasons for believing Bartlett hadn’t committed suicide: the blood spatter patterns suggested a distanced shot with the Glock; the bullet entered Bartlett’s left temple although he was a right-handed man; the gun didn’t appear to have been dropped. 

Mills’s defense suggested that it was improper for the detective to seek a confession when police had enough evidence to take him into custody. 

From that, the defense infers that Mills was, in fact, in a custodial interview and should have been read his Miranda rights. LeBrun disagreed, writing back that the detective “very clearly informed (the) defendant that he was not under arrest.”