« Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court grants transfer to one case today | Main | Ind. Gov't. - "Residents speak out on guns in state parks" »

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ind. Decisions - More on: Supreme Court reverses Jennings County murder conviction

Both the AP and the Indianapolis Star have stories today on the Supreme Court's decision yesterday in Rohr v. State of Indiana (see ILB entry here).

From the Star story by Mary Beth Schneider:

The Indiana Supreme Court has ordered a new trial after overturning the murder conviction of a North Vernon man accused in the beating death of his girlfriend's son.

Aaron Michael Rohr is serving a life sentence without parole for the 2005 murder of 5-year-old Samuel Moore. While the court, in a decision released Tuesday, found there was enough evidence to convict Rohr, it also said the jury should have been allowed to hear from two witnesses whose testimony could have shown Samuel's mother, Donna, was chiefly responsible for the boy's death. * * *

Jennings County Prosecutor Gary Smith said he "certainly" will retry Rohr.

"All I can say is I'm disappointed and shocked by the ruling," Smith said. "However, we will retry him."

Smith also said he has asked the Indiana attorney general's office, which argued the case before the Supreme Court, to consider asking for a rehearing. The attorney general's office declined to comment. * * *

At the trial, Rohr's attorney had wanted to call to the stand two women who apparently had witnessed Moore's abuse of her son since he was 6 months old -- testimony that might have convinced the jury that she, and not Rohr, had killed the boy.

The judge, though, barred their testimony when prosecutors argued that they had not been told early enough about the defense's plans to call the women as witnesses.

But the Supreme Court noted that the defense hadn't even known of the women until they learned of their existence from the prosecution itself, only one day before a court-imposed deadline for disclosing the names of witnesses.

The defense, the court ruled in the 5-0 decision, had not intentionally delayed placing the women on their witness list, and the prosecution had more than a month to interview them.

"The potential importance of the witnesses' testimony to the defense may be inferred from the state's efforts to exclude their testimony," Justice Brent E. Dickson wrote in the court's opinion.

"While the evidence without the excluded witnesses was sufficient for a conviction, the erroneous exclusion of witnesses requires a new trial," he noted later in the opinion.

From the AP story:
The state argued that the two potential witnesses were not listed by the defense until 30 days past a discovery deadline and only four days before the scheduled trial. The judge granted the state’s request to exclude them.

But the high court said the extreme sanction of witness exclusion “should not be deployed unless the defendant’s breach has been purposeful or unless substantial or irreparable prejudice would result to the state.”

It also said that there is a strong presumption to allow the testimony of even late-disclosed witnesses, and their exclusion in this case resulted in substantial prejudice to the defense.

Jennings County Prosecutor Gary Smith said Tuesday he has asked the state attorney general’s office to seek a rehearing of the appeal by the Supreme Court. If that fails, he will retry Rohr on all the original charges.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 16, 2007 10:21 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions