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Was accused killer too drunk to waive his Miranda rights?

Photo: Accused killer Asbury Lee Perkins.

How drunk is too drunk to understand the right to remain silent in police custody? And does it matter if it’s the defendant’s eighth arrest and he presumably knows the drill?

Accused killer Asbury Lee Perkins’ new court-appointed defense attorney says he was sloppy drunk – stumbling, slow to respond and slurring his words – the night in November 2015 when he was found in his boxer shorts with the dead body of his estranged wife, Cynthia Betts, in a house on Seagrape Drive in Floralton Beach.

Betts had been shot twice and her body had been rolled up in a rug.

West Palm Beach-based attorney Valerie Masters says Perkins likely did not understand the two times his Miranda rights were read to him by Indian River County Sheriff’s Deputies.

“Since the Defendant’s waiver of his Miranda warning was not freely and voluntarily made, his statement, and evidence located, developed or otherwise seized by law enforcement because of the statement, must also be suppressed,” Masters argued in an Oct. 12 motion filed with the court.

Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor and two law enforcement officers who dealt with Perkins the night Cynthia Betts was found dead say Perkins was inebriated, but that he knew exactly what was going on.

Defense and prosecution attorneys questioned the two deputies about their interactions with Perkins. Both said that Perkins smelled of alcohol and appeared to have been drinking, but that he was acting rationally and was fully conscious of what was happening.

Deputies say Perkins asked for a cup of water and while an officer’s back was turned, managed to catch the door to the interview room before it could close and used that chance to exit the room and hide in a conference room in a different part of the detective bureau.

Masters said the allegation that Perkins thought he could escape police custody while wearing only his boxer shorts and crouched behind a wall in a conference room was “an impulsive act while drunk.”

Taylor argued that case law sets “a very high standard” in describing how impaired or intoxicated a defendant must be to not be able to understand his or her Miranda rights. He cited rulings that say “intoxication must be to the level of mania” for the defense’s motion to toss out Perkins’ statements to prevail.

Perkins was far from manic though, Taylor said. He knew where he was, knew what he had done, how serious his acts were and what the likely consequences would be. Taylor, through the deputies’ testimony, showed that Perkins was worried about his dog and who would care for the animal, and that he asked if he would be wearing a red suit – in the jail, only violent offenders wear a red suit.

Deputies testified that Perkins spoke to them about his multimillion-dollar semiconductor business and demonstrated an educated vocabulary.

Though they had split as a couple, Betts and Perkins were still business partners as Perkins was the technical mind of the business. One deputy said Perkins even discussed the economy with him, saying that the semiconductor market had tanked and affected his bottom line. Taylor offered these statements as evidence that Perkins was not drunk out of his mind to the point of “mania.”

“He’s not thinking he’s picking daisies on the surface of Mars,” Taylor said.

Masters countered that the more reasonable statements Perkins made were several hours after his arrest, “after he’s sobered up,” but the Miranda warnings were delivered hours earlier when he was obviously impaired.

Perkins blood alcohol level was not tested at the crime scene so there is no objective measure of his chemical impairment. But photos Masters introduced into evidence showed two liquor bottles plus loose tablets of an unknown drug in the room where Perkins was found by police.

Vaughn told the attorneys he would take everything presented into consideration and issue a written ruling about the use of Perkins’ statements as evidence.