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Monday, September 25, 2006

Ind. Decisions - "Appeals court throws out conviction"

"Appeals court throws out conviction" is the headline to this story today in the Muncie Star-Press about a Court of Appeals ruling last Tuesday, Sept. 19th, in the case of Joseph Stellwag v. State of Indiana (see ILB entry here - case is about half-way down). Some quotes:

MUNCIE -- A state appeals court has overturned a Muncie man's battery conviction and a resulting six-year prison term, citing comments made during the August 2005 trial by Delaware Circuit Court 5 Judge Wayne Lennington.

A jury last year found Joseph F. Stellwag, now 57, guilty of battery with a deadly weapon. He had been accused of beating a man in the head with a metal pipe during an August 2004 altercation.

Lennington later imposed the six-year prison term, two years longer than the standard sentence for a class C felony conviction.

In a ruling last week, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that Stellwag should receive a new trial because the "cumulative effect" of repeated comments by Lennington during last year's trial "crossed the barrier of impartiality."

The appeals court noted that Lennington at one point called Stellwag before the bench and threatened to send the Muncie man to jail "if he did not stop whispering to his attorney and making gestures."

"I've had it with you," the judge told Stellwag, according to a partial transcript. "I've just had to admonish your attorney for the faces and the conduct you're having. ... Now I'm going to take you out of this courtroom, and we'll leave you upstairs in the jail until we have this trial. Do you understand me? One more (time), and I'll not warn you again. I'll have you taken out."

The appeals panel suggested Lennington could have excused the jury from the courtroom before chastising the defendant.

"Admonishment in front of the jury was not a function necessary in controlling a courtroom," the judges wrote.

The appeals court also ruled Lennington had objected to a line of questioning by defense attorney Ross Rowland before Deputy Prosecutor Judi Calhoun had raised any objection.

The panel also ruled that Lennington "gratuitously requested in front of the jury that a defense witness refrain from arguing with (Calhoun) after the witness had responded in a yes or no fashion to (the deputy prosecutor's) question."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 25, 2006 06:11 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions