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EHT murder suspect’s statement not admissible, appellate judges agree

A judge was right to throw out a murder suspect’s statement to detectives in the killing of an Egg Harbor Township man three years ago, an appellate panel ruled.

Leonard Ludwigsen Jr., now 28, is one of two men charged with murder in the Jan. 2, 2020 killing of 24-year-old Arturo “Arty” Barrera III.

He and Neco Pitts allegedly were part of a conspiracy to rob the home in the 100 block of Vermont Avenue before things went bad and gunfire erupted.

They were arrested 14 months later.

Ludwigsen admitted to driving Pitts to the home and that the occupants of the vehicle talked about robbing the victims, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

But anything Ludwigsen said is not admissible in court, after a detective failed to “scrupulously honor” his right to remain silent, defense attorney Lou Barbone successfully argued last year.

Around 6 a.m. March 16, 2021, Ludwigsen signed his Miranda rights, saying he did not wish to speak with police. Nearly five hours later, he agreed to speak.

But in those intervening hours, Detective Natasha Alvarado continued to check with Ludwigsen about changing his mind.

“This is your chance to talk to us and explain what the deal is,” she said just after Ludwigsen signed the card saying he would not waive his right to remain silent.

“I just haven’t had a good experience with you guys,” he responds.

Two hours later, the detective checked in on Ludwigsen and said she was “going to give [him] one more opportunity … to sit down and have a conversation.”

Ludwigsen asked if he would be able to go to work, with the detective advising him he was “gonna be held right now” and would probably not be released that day.

Alvarado again reminded defendant he had an opportunity to speak with law enforcement.

“It doesn’t sound like it’s … gonna go too good either way,” he replied.

She tells him a scenario where “what happened at Art’s house wasn’t supposed to happen the way that it did … and that’s explainable dude … and now is the opportunity …”

Alvarado also tells Ludwigsen that “the FBI is here … and you have a son … just don’t forget about him.”

“I don’t know,” he tells her. “I got trust issues talking to you guys cause of everything that happened in the past and what not.”

At 10:43 a.m., Ludwigsen agreed to talk and was again Mirandized. But that didn’t erase the hours in between, Judge William Miller found.

This week, an appellate panel agreed.

“We agree with Judge Miller that law enforcement did not ‘scrupulously honor’ defendant’s assertion of his right to remain silent after he was first Mirandized,” the panel wrote. “Instead, Detective Alvarado spoke with defendant repeatedly about the case, without re-administering Miranda warnings until almost five hours after he first invoked his right to remain silent.”

Moreover, we agree with Judge Miller’s assessment that the detective’s statements to defendant were the “functional equivalent” of questioning.

Ludwigsen and Pitts were indicted in July 2021. Both remain in the Atlantic County Justice Facility.

No current court dates are set for Ludwigsen, as the case was on hold as it went through the appeals process.

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