Kansas City, Mo. A videotaped confession from a man charged with killing a shipmate in 1968 aboard a Navy vessel can be used in his trial later this month, a federal judge ruled Friday.
The attorney for Michael Edward LeBrun, 60, has fought the use of his confession for years, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But on Friday, Chief U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple said in a written order that he was satisfied that prosecutors had enough evidence to independently corroborate the confession.
LeBrun, of Greenwood, Mo., is accused of strangling Ensign Andrew Lee Muns, 24, on Jan. 17, 1968, while their ship, the Navy fueling vessel USS Cacapon, was anchored in the Philippines. Muns was the ship's payroll officer, and LeBrun, a petty officer second class, worked as a supply clerk.
Prosecutors have said that without the confession they have no case. Jury selection for the trial is scheduled to start Sept. 12.
Muns disappeared at the same time that $8,600 was missing from the ship's safe. Investigators at the time concluded that Muns had stolen the money and deserted.
He was listed as a deserter until the case was reopened 30 years later, after pressure from Muns' sister.
The investigation eventually led to LeBrun, who confessed that he had stolen the money from the ship's safe and strangled Muns. He said he dumped Muns' body and the money into a tank of fuel oil to dispose of the evidence.
However, authorities did not advise LeBrun of his Miranda rights after asking him for a voluntary statement. Court records show investigators promised LeBrun he would not be prosecuted if he confessed to manslaughter, because the statute of limitations had run out.
After two federal judges in Kansas City ruled that investigators had coerced LeBrun's confession and violated his Miranda rights, a three-judge appeals panel ruled that the confession should not be used.
But in a 2003 hearing, the full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the confession was admissible. The U.S. Supreme Court later declined to consider throwing out the confession.
Defense attorney Glenn E. Bradford then tried another approach, arguing that a rule that a person cannot be convicted only on the basis of an uncorroborated confession applied in this case.
In a hearing Thursday, Deputy U.S. Atty. Matt Whitworth argued that Muns' disappearance since 1968 is consistent with LeBrun's confession, as was the missing $8,600. Other details about Muns' movements on the ship that night also support the confession, Whitworth said.