The state's highest court has returned a rape case to Howard County courts, telling judges there to determine whether police violated the rights of a teenager who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman.

In an unusual decision, the unanimous Court of Appeals ruling neither overturns nor upholds the 2008 rape conviction of Dedrick Tyrone Wilkerson, nor his 12-year prison sentence. Whether Wilkerson is entitled to a new trial will depend on whether a Howard County judge believes the second statement Wilkerson gave police in December 2007 violated his rights.

T. Wayne Kirwan, spokesman for the Howard County state's attorney's office, said prosecutors would not discuss the case because it is pending.

The Court of Appeals judges said that they did not know whether investigators purposely used a prohibited two-step tactic in questioning Wilkerson, then 17, in connection with the Oct. 18, 2007, reported sexual assault of a 23-year-old woman in a field between Wilde Lake middle and high schools.

That approach was banned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004. The justices said it allowed police to avoid giiving suspects Miranda warnings before questioning them. The prohibited tactic involves questioning a suspect before advising him of his rights to remain silent and to have an attorney, then conducting a second interrogation after telling the suspect about his rights.

According to the ruling, Wilkerson initially told police he was not with the woman who accused him of choking and raping her, and also said that because he was wearing an ankle monitor in an unrelated case, he would not have been allowed out.

After he was read his rights, police told him he was seen on a security video with the woman at an ATM. He then told them he had no recollection of being out that night or knowing the woman, according to the ruling.

Wilkerson's lawyer argued that statements Wilkerson made before receiving Miranda warnings should not be used in his trial, and then argued that the second statement was "tainted" by the first.

Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure did not allow prosecutors to use Wilkerson's first statements in his 2008 trial but did allow the use of his second remarks. Wilkerson's defense at the trial was that the encounter was consensual; he had arranged to get drugs for the woman in exchange for sex, according to the ruling.

The Court of Appeals judges said they could not tell whether Wilkerson's lawyer raised the two-step issue because it was not clear what she meant by "tainted," and neither prosecutors nor the judge responded by discussing the two-step prohibition. Prosecutors contended the defense failed to raise the issue before trial and therefore could not bring it up it in the appeal.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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