Court rules DeKalb man's confession in killing wasn't coerced

A DeKalb County man was not coerced when he confessed to a Canadian border agent that he killed his girlfriend, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled this week.

Victor Manuel Madrigal, 40, of Doraville will now serve a life sentence at Macon State Prison.

Madrigal stabbed his girlfriend, Melida Guerrera, multiple times in 2003 and then left her dead body in a car parked outside a church on Chamblee-Tucker Road, prosecutors said.

The couple, who lived together at an apartment off Pleasantdale Road, had gotten into an argument about Madrigal taking money from the woman's bank account, said his lawyer, Gerard Kleinrock. The woman threatened to call the police if he didn’t pay her back.

But Madrigal, who was in the country illegally and had already been deported once, didn’t want the police involved, said Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Ingrid Skidmore.

“It obviously was a premeditated thing,” said Skidmore, who prosecuted the case. “He stabbed her in the car and left her in the car.”

After the stabbing, which Madrigal argued was self-defense, he fled to his home in Mexico.

Three years later, Madrigal got on a plane and flew to Canada to visit his uncle, Kleinrock said.

But when he arrived at the Vancouver airport, officers with the Canada Border Services Agency were waiting. They had checked the background of all the passengers on the flight and learned Madrigal had an outstanding murder warrant from DeKalb.

“I think he really didn’t think he would have any problems flying from Mexico to Canada,” Skidmore said.

Agents detained Madrigal, who told them he had stabbed his girlfriend in self-defense.

Prosecutors used that as a confession and a DeKalb jury found Madrigal guilty of malice murder and possession of a knife. He was sentenced to life plus five years.

Madrigal later appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing that a Canadian agent threatened him and forced him to talk.

“Misrepresenting yourself and withholding information is only going to make things worse for you,” the border agent told Madrigal, according to court records.

Kleinrock argued that’s a threat. But the Supreme Court ruled that the agent’s statements do not show “physical or mental torture or coercion by threats.”

“The Georgia statute says statements shouldn’t be used if there is a slight threat. We argue that it is a threat,” Kleinrock told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I thought it was pretty straight, but the court said no.”

DeKalb prosecutors say the border agent could have just let Madrigal head off into Canada instead of conducting the interview and then calling the U.S. marshals.

“He’s really the hero of the case,” said Skidmore, who oversees the district attorney’s domestic violence unit. “This woman had a daughter and he [Madrigal] had fled to Mexico. There was never going to be any justice for her daughter and the citizens of DeKalb County. But with this border agent’s help, we were able to get this fugitive back here and get him convicted of malice murder. That justice is very sweet.”