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High court denies Orwell man’s appeal of sexual assault conviction

MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Supreme Court has rejected an Orwell man’s appeal of his 2017 conviction on a charge of aggravated sexual assault on a minor.
It was in January of 2017 that an Addison County jury convicted Rein Kolts on the felony charge, relating to allegations he had repeatedly engaged in nonconsensual sexual acts over a two-year period with a girl whom court records identified as his niece.
The victim — then in her early teens — told authorities in 2014 she had been sexually assaulted by Kolts more than five times at the defendant’s Orwell home and once in Chester during the previous two years.
Kolts pleaded innocent to the assault charge in Addison Superior Court, criminal division, at his arraignment in July 2014. He requested and was granted a trial by jury.
After the jury had heard the case and rendered its verdict at the Frank Mahady Courthouse in Middlebury, Addison Superior Court Judge Samuel Hoar in July of 2017 sentenced Kolts, now 72, to 25 years to life in prison.
Kolts appealed the conviction based on several assertions, including that Hoar should have granted his motion to suppress an earlier confession. Kolts argued, among other things, that his confession had been involuntary and that he “should have been given Miranda warnings because he was in custody when he was interviewed by Det. Lt. Ruth Whitney of the Addison County Unit for Special Investigations.
But the Supreme Court, in its decision, noted Kolts had voluntarily agreed to be questioned by police and that he was told by investigators he could have left the unlocked room at any time, and could have had a witness present.
Police alleged Kolts made his confession after being told investigators had DNA evidence linking him to the victim, and that the victim would have to testify in court, according to court records.
As it turned out, police didn’t have DNA evidence in the case, according to court records.
Once Kolts confessed, investigators told Kolts he was no longer free to leave and read him his Miranda rights, according to court documents.
The Supreme Court justices noted that Miranda doesn’t apply to a suspect who isn’t in custody.
“In summary, Det. Whitney’s statements that defendant could leave any time; her calm, unaggressive tone and questions; defendant’s voluntary arrival at the interview; its short duration; and the detectives’ willingness to have a third-party witness during questioning, combined with the comfortable setting of the interview room and close proximity of an exit outside the interview room door — which was not locked — all suggest that a reasonable person in defendant’s position would not have felt he or she was in custody,” the court’s ruling reads. “The totality of the circumstances support the trial court’s conclusion: Defendant wasn’t in custody when he confessed.”
The Supreme Court justices added authorities’ false claims of incriminating evidence “taken alone, are not enough to make any resulting confession involuntary,” the decision reads.
“Here, defendant confessed in response to Det. Whitney’s claim that there was DNA evidence to prove his guilt,” the justices acknowledged. “The detective’s false claim is not enough to render his confession involuntary without other coercive actions, such as a promise of leniency. But the detectives here made no promises of leniency.”
Kolts’ argument that police coerced him into confessing by “promising that if he did, then his niece would not have to testify” also failed to convince the High Court.
The Supreme Court rejected that argument, stating “this was not a promise by the detectives, but a prediction of the state’s strategy if the allegations progressed into a trial.”
Kolts also argued in his appeal that his expert psychologist, Charles Rossi, would have testified that police had “seized on his psychological ‘weakness’ by telling him he could protect (the victim) by confessing.”
The trial court had already excluded that psychological evidence, according to the Supreme Court decision.
The justices in their Dec. 15 ruling rejected additional claims by Kolts that the lower court’s instructions to the jury on the voluntariness of his concession were improper, and that the court “abused its discretion” by excluding to defense experts who would have testified to “what was happening in his mind when he confessed.”

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