Judge to rule on jailhouse tapes in baby-death case

Jessica Pierce

Investigators say Ahkeem Whitfield, during a jailhouse visit in June with his girlfriend, Heather Brown, said he wanted to find a church and make a confession. When she visited him again at the Ontario County Jail in Hopewell six days later, the two talked about how to beat a lie detector test.

During that visit, investigators say, Whitfield told Brown, “Your story is the same as mine. There’s no way we can slip up.”

That’s according to documents filed in the Ontario County Clerk’s Office for the criminal cases against Whitfield and Brown, who are accused of causing the death of Brown’s 10-month-old daughter, Iyonna, last spring.

Whitfield, charged with second-degree murder, is accused of fracturing the baby’s skull in three places and burning her on her legs, feet and genitals while caring for her in their rented room at the Woodridge Motel in Canandaigua on May 30. Brown, 22, is charged with manslaughter — authorities claim she helped cause her baby’s death by not seeking medical attention until it was too late.

The jailhouse conversations were captured by hidden recording devices that investigators had placed in a visitors’ room before three scheduled visits by Brown — on June 10, 16 and 17. Those recordings were the subject of a hearing Tuesday in Ontario County Court before Judge Craig Doran.

Attorneys representing Brown and Whitfield, 24, are calling on Doran to prevent the recordings from being used as evidence when the cases go to trial next month.

Brown was not included in the hearing because her attorney, Robert Zimmerman, had a personal matter to attend to. The hearing for Whitfield was almost postponed as well, as he was allegedly in a fight at the jail moments before he was to brought to court.

The problems with the recordings, according to Whitfield’s attorney, Robert Tucker, is that investigators did not follow proper protocol in handling them. Specifically, he claims investigators were supposed to have a judge seal the recordings immediately after the eavesdropping warrant they had secured expired.

The warrant expired when Whitfield was released from the county jail — on unrelated charges — on June 18. The recordings were not sealed until June 21.

Brad Falkey, one of three county sheriff’s investigators called to the stand, explained that Doran was out of town and therefore could not have sealed the recordings the day Whitfield was freed. Tucker highlighted the fact that no effort was made to contact another of the three county judges to seal the recordings, captured on five compact discs.

Falkey and the two other investigators called to the stand by District Attorney R. Michael Tantillo explained how they set up the recording devices and listened in from offices at the sheriff’s department.

They said they stopped recording at various times in the first two meetings when the conversation strayed from the investigation. Hardly any conversation from the third meeting, on June 17, was recorded, they said.

The investigators who testified did not talk about what was allegedly said by Whitfield of Brown during those jailhouse meetings.

The devices were set up June 10 when investigators learned Brown was planning to visit her boyfriend, who was locked up on unrelated menacing charges out of Geneva. Court papers show that on the recording from that day, Whitfield was the only of the two who could be heard.

Investigators wrote in the court papers that they heard him tell Brown, “If we could have stuck with our first story, this wouldn’t be happening. ... You won’t get hit as hard as I will.”

Investigators said Whitfield also told her, “I’ll figure another way out of our statements,” and he wondered aloud, “How much time will I have to do?”

Investigators said on the recording from the June 16 meeting, Whitfield can be heard telling Brown, “If push comes to shove, I’ll take the rap. ... They ain’t got enough evidence.” Investigators said that during the same meeting, Brown spoke to Whitfield about endangering-the-welfare-of-a-child charges relating to a photograph of baby Iyonna surrounded by beer bottles.

Doran is not expected to rule on whether the recordings are admissible until after a similar hearing is held for Brown on Feb. 14. Both Brown and Whitfield are in the county jail.

Jury selection is set to begin Feb. 25.

Contact Jessica Pierce at (585) 394-0770, or at