If the pain ever started to ease for Todd County residents after the 2011 death of 9-year-old Amy Dye, it came when Todd Circuit Judge Tyler Gill sentenced her biological cousin and adoptive brother Garrett Dye to 50 years in prison for her murder.
But Thursday, the community’s wounds were likely reopened as the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned that conviction in ruling Kentucky State Police coerced a confession from Garrett Dye and violated his 14th Amendment rights.
Dye’s defense attorney, Dennis Ritchie, has long argued that KSP investigators illegally interrogated his client by involuntarily waiving his Miranda rights and denying his right to an attorney before questioning, motioning to have that confession suppressed when the case came to trial.
But Judge Tyler Gill denied Ritchie’s motion, and subsequently Dye pleaded guilty to murder, while reserving his right to appeal.
On Nov. 25, 2011, Dye was sentenced to 50 years for murder, 12 months for resisting arrest and three years for tampering with evidence, all to run concurrently for a total of 50 years imprisonment.
Without much delay, Ritchie invoked his client’s right to an appeal, filing a motion on Dec. 22, 2011 in Todd County Circuit Court to send the case to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
On Thursday, more than two years since Amy Dye’s death, the justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court sided with Ritchie, reversing Dye’s original conviction and remanding it back to the hands of Todd trial court.
State police found Amy Dye’s lifeless body Feb. 5, 2011, near Dogwood Lane, between Trenton and Guthrie, on a farm a few hundred yards past the road’s dead end.
With signs of blunt force trauma to the head, it was evident she was beaten to death.
After police began searching the property and the house of Amy’s adoptive family, they took Garret Dye and his parents in for questioning.
According to the Kentucky Supreme Court’s ruling, Thomas Dye requested his son Garrett not be questioned until there was an attorney present, and investigators initially obliged.
However, the following day, police returned to the home and arrested Garrett Dye, charging him with murder. He was read his Miranda rights and taken to the Logan County Courthouse.
There, the reversing opinion reads, four officers, two at a time, began interrogating Dye, during which he allegedly confessed to murdering his adopted sister.
Based on information obtained during that interrogation, investigators returned to the home once more on Feb. 6 with a search warrant to retrieve evidence.
Garrett dye would go on to tell authorities he bludgeoned Amy Dye to death with the handle of a hydraulic jack during his interrogation.
At the Logan County Courthouse, according to the justices’ opinion, Garrett Dye faced a four-hour interrogation.
This, Ritchie argued, was illegal because, through his father, Garrett Dye had invoked his right to an attorney, but was not given one before the interrogation.
Additionally, the court found that police used coercive tactics to draw out a confession based on a three-pronged precedent, Henson v. Commonwealth.
The opinion states that the police who interrogated Garrett Dye, 17 years old at the time, were objectively coercive.
According to the record, the officers continually led Dye to believe he could receive the death penalty, and likely would if he did not confess to the murder immediately.
However by law, as a juvenile at the time, he was not even eligible for the death penalty.
About two hours into the questioning, officers gave Dye a break, and he began to sob.
When an officer returned to the room and asked if he needed anything — water, food, a bathroom break — Dye reportedly replied, “I don’t know what I want. I’m just scared.”
Continuing, he asked, “Are they going to give me the death penalty?”
The officer replied, “Oh yeah. … Now you’ll probably spend 20 to 30 years in a room by yourself. That’s what I’m trying to tell you, man. This is the only chance you got to avoid all that right now. Tonight. Tonight will be your only chance.”
And the threats continued: “We’ve put people on death row and electrocuted them with a whole lot less evidence than we got you on,” one officer said.
Earlier in the interrogation, another investigator alluded to prison violence, perhaps rape, according to the court’s opinion.
“I can tell you right now, a 17-year old or 18-year old young buck straight into Eddyville, killing a 9-year-old — you can imagine what they’re going to do to you on a daily basis,” the investigator said.
Still, soon before confessing, Dye maintained, “I just don’t want to say anything until my lawyers get here, and they can’t get here until Monday.”
But the police countered that if he waited for a lawyer, he’d lose his chance to confess and save himself from the death penalty.
The Kentucky Supreme Court additionally found that police played on Dye’s fear of death and that the main factor leading to his confession was police activity.
Stu Recke, spokesperson for Kentucky State Police, would not comment on the interrogative tactics used by officers that day.
“The courts rule however they see fit,” he said. “They do what they do, and we do our job.”
However, Ryan Craig, owner of the Todd County Standard, said when he heard the tapes of Dye’s interrogation, he thought it could go either way.
“Judge Gill is one of those judges who rarely gets overturned,” Craig said. “So it is a little surprising. But at the same time, though, from what I gathered, the Supreme Court felt that KSP was a little too heavy handed.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Gail Guiling addressed the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday afternoon in a statement that was posted on the Todd County Standard’s Facebook page.
“While I respect the Court’s reasoning and decision in this case, the Supreme Court’s ruling will affect adversely the strength and availability of the evidence to be presented by the Commonwealth at trial,” the statement read. “I plan however, to pursue justice for Ami (sic) Dye and anticipate that the case will be set for trial in November in Todd Circuit Court.”
Craig, who has covered the case since it broke in early 2011, is not so worried that the verdict was overturned, but rather he fears what bringing it back into the forefront will do to the community.
“This was really tough on the Todd County community the first time around, and it will be just as tough, maybe even tougher, this next time,” Craig said. “We’ve already gotten phone calls from people who have gotten word of this and wanted to know if it is really true. I think it’s gonna be a huge deal in this county, and you wonder if it even can be tried in this county.”
After Amy Dye’s death, an enraged community began to take action, and that’s when the story — regardless of Garrett Dye’s conviction — took another turn.
The Todd County Standard filed an open records request for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ records of abuse related to Amy Dye, which, by law, can only be released if the abuse leads to death or near death.
However, the cabinet tried to avoid filling Craig’s request, and he sued them.
“They were saying that they didn’t have any contact with her at the time of her death,” Craig said. “But it was under our stipulation that they handled her adoption, and she should have never been adopted into that home. We won the case to get the records, and it showed that the cabinet, on more than one occasion, dropped the ball.”
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled in the paper’s favor, and in his written order, the judge condemned the cabinet for not acknowledging Amy’s need for help.
Beginning in 2007, state social workers documented Amy’s abuse by her adoptive family, her released records showed, including one instance where her oldest adoptive brother beat her, but her mother threatened to spank her if she told anyone.
“Obviously there were things wrong in that house, or she wouldn’t be dead right now,” Craig said. “Amy Dye should not have been in that home. You can place blame anywhere you want to, but the bottom line is that when we got those records, it showed that she should not have been in that home.”
And while the community has tried to move on since Amy’s death — such as one man, Mike Taylor, who took it upon himself to raise money to build a memorial for Amy at the school she attended, South Todd Elementary — it is likely the reversing opinion, which will lead to another trial, that will bring back the heartbreak and anger felt in Todd county two years ago, Craig said.
“It’s gonna be tough for the people of Todd County because there are still scars and open wounds from all the things that happened stemming from Amy Dye’s death and afterward,” Craig said. “It’s like starting back at square one, as if she died a week ago.”
Starting from scratch
Garrett Dye will be given the right to a have another jury trial.
However, whether this trial — if he pleads not guilty this time — will be in Todd County is be one of many concerns likely to be dealt with when pretrial hearings commence.
Before Dye’s guilty plea in the original case, his attorney argued that finding an impartial jury would be an issue.
Early on in the case, he hired a private investigator to interview more than 100 Todd County residents and testify that it would be impossible to find an impartial jury.
Judge Gill, however, denied this motion.
Now, with Dye’s reversed conviction and the releasing of Amy Dye’s abuse records — both well-known throughout the community — it could be even more difficult to give Dye a fair trial in Todd County.
Additionally, the Kentucky Supreme Court, in its reversing opinion, said it will leave it up to the trial court to decide if the evidence authorities obtained on Feb. 6, after Garrett Dye’s coerced confession, is admissible.
While the commonwealth argued that the evidence obtained would have inevitably been discovered, the defense maintains that the evidence was “fruit of the poisonous tree,” meaning that it came from illegal tactics and should be suppressed.
Lastly, Garrett Dye’s confession will no longer stand, meaning that the legal process this time around will look very different for the man who once confessed to, but is now only accused of killing his 9-year-old adopted sister when he was 17.
REACH BILLY MITCHELL at 270-887-3240 or email@example.com