Submitted: June 17, 2019
consideration of the Motions in Limine and Applications to
Admit Opinion Testimony GRANTED in part and DENIED in part
W. Downs, Esquire and Barzilai K. Axelrod, Esquire,
Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for
the State of Delaware.
J. O'Connell, Esquire and Misty A. Seemans, Esquire,
Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for Defendant Beatriz Y.
M. Davis, Judge
State charged Defendant Ms. Beatriz Y. Fana-Ruiz with one
count of Arson First Degree, six counts of Murder First
Degree, one count of Assault First Degree, Six Counts of
Reckless Endangering in the First Degree and two counts of
Arson in the Third Degree. The State alleges that Ms.
Fana-Ruiz started a fire at around 2:30AM on September 24,
2016 by placing a burning piece of paper in a dollhouse in
her basement. Three firefighters were killed while fighting
this fire. The State indicted Ms. Fana-Ruiz on January 23,
Fana-Ruiz provided a number of statements to law enforcement
officials that are at issue. First, Wilmington Police
Department ("WPD") detectives interviewed Ms.
Fana-Ruiz on or around 5:45 p.m. on September 24, 2016.
Second, two Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm ("ATF")
investigators interviewed Ms. Fana-Ruiz on September 28,
2016. Third, on September 28, 2016, the ATF investigators
walked through the scene of the fire with Ms. Fana-Ruiz.
During discussions with the ATF investigators, Ms. Fana-Ruiz
provided inculpatory statements including a confession to
having started the fire. The WPD detectives and the ATF
investigators provided Miranda warnings to Ms. Fana-Ruiz
before the interviews.
August 2, 2018, Ms. Fana-Ruiz provided the State with three
expert reports. The authors of the expert reports are James
M. Walsh, Ph.D, LPCMH, I.Bruce Frumkin, Ph.D., ABPP, and
Brian L. Cutler, Ph.D. At trial, Ms. Fana-Ruiz seeks to have
Dr. Frumkin and Dr. Cutler testify. Dr. Walsh will not
testify, but Dr. Frumkin and Dr, Cutler both rely on certain
conclusions made by Dr. Walsh. Through the testimony of Dr.
Frumkin and Dr. Cutler, Ms. Fana-Ruiz seeks to provide
testimony that discuss interrogation techniques, the
"phenomenon" of contaminated or false confessions,
the susceptibility of a person to providing a contaminated or
false confession and Ms. Fana-Ruiz's mental state and
response, the State asked the Court to order Ms. Fana-Ruiz to
undergo psychiatric and/or psychological testing from State
retained experts. On November 21, 2018, the Court ordered Ms.
Fana-Ruiz to submit to such testing. The State then had Ms.
Fana-Ruiz examined by Gregory B. Saathoff, M.D. and Stephen
Mechanick, M.D. Subsequently, the State submitted expert
reports from Dr. Saathoff and Dr. Mechanick. The State has
consistently characterized the Dr. Saathoff and Dr. Mechanick
reports as rebuttal reports to be used in the event that the
Court allows Dr. Frumkin and Dr. Cutler to testify.
State and Ms. Fana-Ruiz moved to preclude Dr. Saathoff, Dr.
Mechanick, Dr. Frumkin and Dr. Cutler from testifying at
trial. The Court held a Daubert hearing from March
25, 2019 through March 28, 2019 (the "Hearing")
regarding the admissibility of testimony from the various
doctors. At the conclusion of the Hearing, the Court made two
requests of counsel: (i) submission of the proposed
experts' curriculum vitae and (ii) copies of Ms.
Fana-Ruiz's statements. The State and Ms. Fana-Ruiz made
a request to submit post-Hearing briefs. The Court granted
the request. The parties completed briefing on June 17, 2019.
the Hearing and the conclusion of post-hearing briefing, the
Court viewed the interviews of Ms. Fana-Ruiz by the WPD
detectives and the ATF investigators. The Court notes that
during the interviews with the ATF investigators, Ms.
Fana-Ruiz admits to starting the fire at the residence. The
Court has been advised that Ms. Fana-Ruiz now contends that
her confession is a false confession. After review of the
interviews, and as conceded by Ms. Fana-Ruiz, the Court finds
no basis to conclude that the WPD detectives or the ATF
investigators violated Ms. Fana-Ruiz's Miranda
addition, the Court has reviewed the curriculum vitae of Dr.
Frumkin, Dr. Cutler, Dr. Saathoff and Dr. Mechanick. The
Court is comfortable that the testimony concerning each
expert's qualifications is supported by their curriculum
forth below, the Court will allow Dr. Frumkin, Dr. Cutler,
Dr. Saathoff and Dr. Mechanick to testify. However, the Court
will not allow Dr. Saathoff to opine that Ms. Fana-Ruiz's
background and presentation is consistent with existing
research regarding characteristics of known female arsonists.
The Court will allow Dr. Saathoff to testify as to Ms.
Fana-Ruiz's mental state and susceptibility to falsely
Frumkin. Dr. Frumkin is a forensic psychologist. Dr.
Frumkin received his Masters Degree and his Ph.D. in
psychology from Washington University. Dr. Frumkin also has a
Diplomate in Forensic Psychology from the American Board of
Professional Psychology. According to Dr. Frumkin, a
Diplomate equates to being board certified in forensic
psychology. Dr. Frumkin has been qualified and has testified
as an expert in court.
Frumkin evaluated Ms. Fana-Ruiz and certain facts of this
criminal case. Dr. Frumkin created a report containing his
opinions. The Court has reviewed Dr. Frumkin's
report. After evaluating Ms. Fana-Ruiz, Dr. Frumkin opines
that "Ms. Fana-Ruiz has a number of vulnerabilities
which make her more susceptible to falsely confessing
compared to others in light of the interrogation
used." Dr. Frumkin then goes on to discuss one
type of false confession-Coerced-Internalized False
Confession-and then moves back to discussing Ms.
Fana-Ruiz's vulnerabilities like poor memory,
intoxication, and that she was high at the time of the arson.
It appears in the report that Dr. Frumkin is opining, or at
the very least implying, that Ms. Fana-Ruiz's confession
falls into the category of Coerced-Internalized False
Confession. During the Hearing, Dr. Frumkin clarified that he
has formed no opinion on whether Ms. Fana-Ruiz provided a
Cutler. Dr. Cutler is a professor at the University
of Ontario Institute of Technology. Dr. Cutler has a Ph.D. in
psychology from the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Cutler
states that he has been conducting research on forensic
psychology since 1984.
Cutler's report states that he was retained to offer
opinions on (i) the risk of false confessions in general;
(ii) the link between false confessions and wrongful
conviction; (iii) personal and situational risk factors that
increase the risk of false confessions; and (iv) the extent
to which personal and situation risk factors associated with
false confessions are present in the interviews of Ms.
Fana-Ruiz. The report goes through adiscussion of risks of
false confession, links between false confessions and
wrongful convictions, and personal and situational risk
factors. The report then takes these general concepts and
tries to tie them into the actual interviews of Ms. Fana-Ruiz
by the WPD detectives and the ATF investigators.
Hearing, Dr. Cutler testified that he can educate the jury
about the psychological factors of the interrogation process,
how an interrogation is conducted, the psychological
experience of people subjected to interrogation, and the
situational risk factors observed in the case of Ms.
Fana-Ruiz. Dr. Cutler stated that he would not and
could not opine on whether Ms. Fana-Ruiz gave a true or false
confession. Dr. Cutler provided that "the science itself
does not give [him] the tools that would enable [him] to
offer such an opinion." 
Saathoff. Dr. Saathoff is a professor in Public
Health Sciences and Emergency Medicine at the University of
Virginia School of Medicine. Dr. Saathoff went to medical
school at the University of Missouri and completed his
residency at the University of Virginia. Dr. Saathoff has
been a faculty member at the University of Virginia since
1987. Dr. Saathoff is a trained psychiatrist. Dr. Saathoff
has a specialty field of forensic psychiatry within the field
of psychiatry. Dr. Saathoff is board-certified in psychiatry
Saathoff personally examined Ms. Fana-Ruiz and provided an
expert report containing his opinions. In his report, Dr.
Saathoff presents two opinions: (i) Ms. Fana-Ruiz's
background and presentation is consistent with existing
research regarding characteristics of known female arsonists;
and (ii) a review of Ms. Fana-Ruiz's interviews, her
correctional records, her social history as well as
information that she provided in her interview with Dr.
Saathoff demonstrates that she identifies herself as someone
who demonstrates independence and self-advocacy when dealing
with authority figures.
State provides that Dr. Saathoff is being offered only as a
rebuttal witness in the event the Court allows Dr. Cutler
and/or Dr. Frumkin to testify.
Mechanick. Dr. Mechanick is a psychiatrist. Dr.
Mechanick went to medical school at the University of
Pennsylvania, completed a one-year medical internship at St.
Elizabeth's Hospital in Boston and did a psychiatric
residency at Beth Israel Hospital which is located in Boston.
Dr. Mechanick is a licensed physician in Pennsylvania and New
York. Dr. Mechanick is board certified in psychiatry and
neurology. Dr. Mechanick performs both clinical and forensic
Mechanick examined Ms. Fana-Ruiz. Dr. Mechanick submitted an
expert report that provides opinions as to Ms.
Fana-Ruiz's mental state and her susceptibility traits,
if any, as those might relate to falsely confessing. Dr.
Mechanick also reviewed the opinions of Ms. Fana-Ruiz's
experts and provides his opinion as to their conclusions.
State has stated that Dr. Mechanick is being offered solely
as a rebuttal witness in the event that Dr. Frumkin and/or
Dr. Cutler testify.
Delaware Rule of Evidence 702: Admissibility of Expert
admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Delaware
Rules of Evidence 702 ("Rule 702"). Rule 702
If scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will
assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to
determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert
by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education may
testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if
(1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2)
the testimony is the product of reliable principles and
methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and
methods reliably to the facts of the case.
Rule 702 is similar to Federal Rule of Evidence 702. When
applying Rule 702, Delaware Courts have adopted the U.S.
Supreme Court's holdings in Daubert v. Merrell Dow
Pharmaceuticals. Daubert requires the trial judge
to act as gatekeeper and determine whether the expert
testimony is relevant and reliable and whether it will assist
the trier of fact. The Delaware Supreme has adopted a
five-part test for trial courts to consider when determining
the admissibility of scientific or technical testimony. The
trial judge must decide whether:
(i) the witness is qualified as an expert by knowledge,
skill, experience, training or education; (ii) the evidence
is relevant and reliable; (iii) the expert's opinion is
based upon information reasonably relied upon by experts in
the particular field; (iv) the expert testimony will assist
the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine
a fact in issue; and (v) the expert testimony will not create
unfair prejudice or confuse or mislead the
judge must assess whether the expert's methodology,
rather than the expert's conclusion, is
valid. The Daubert Court provided a
non-exhaustive list of factors for trial judges to consider
in determining whether expert testimony is sufficiently
[i] whether the theory or technique in question can be (and
has been) tested, [ii] whether it has been subjected to peer
review and publication, [iii] its known or potential error
rate and the existence and maintenance of standards
controlling its operation, and [iv] whether it has attracted
widespread acceptance within a relevant scientific
"[s]ome types of expert testimony will be more
objectively verifiable, and subject to the expectations of
falsifiability, peer review, and publication, than others.
Some types of expert testimony will not rely on anything like
a scientific method, and so will have to be evaluated by
reference to other standard principles attendant to the
particular area of expertise." Still, in all cases, the
court must conclude that the "proffered expert testimony
... is properly grounded, well reasoned, and not speculative
before it can be admitted . . . ." "The
party seeking to introduce the expert testimony bears the
burden of establishing its admissibility by a preponderance
of the evidence."
Admissibility of Expert Testimony Regarding ...