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Friday, September 16, 2011

Ind. Courts - "Indiana Supreme Court justices on Thursday weighed whether to overturn a DeKalb County murder conviction"

Yesterday's oral argument in Jeffery W. Cain v. State of Indiana (see ILB entry here), which was a direct appeal to the Supreme Court, is the subject of a long story today in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, reported by Niki Kelly. Some quotes:

Indiana Supreme Court justices on Thursday weighed whether to overturn a DeKalb County murder conviction due to a prosecutor’s belated plea deal and inflammatory closing statements. * * *

Cain’s attorney – Adam Squiller argued Cain’s conviction and sentence should be vacated because the prosecution sprung a surprise witness after a jury had been empaneled and opening statements already given.

That witness was Clint Hess of Corunna – a co-defendant charged with murder who previously was deemed “unavailable” for Cain’s trial because he was protecting himself against self-incrimination.

But on the eve of the first witness being called, DeKalb County Prosecutor ClaraMary Winebrenner offered to drop the murder charge against Hess in exchange for a four-year sentence for assisting a criminal if he would testify against Cain. * * *

Deputy Attorney General Henry Flores said the only surprise was that Hess finally accepted a plea and agreed to testify.

He noted that the deal came the night of the first day of trial after a jury had been selected, and that the defense attorney was given notes of Hess’ likely testimony the next morning before opening statements.

Flores also argued against the second claim offered by the defense that Winebrenner – who attended Thursday’s hearing at the state capitol – went too far in her closing argument when she urged the jury to give Cain life in prison without parole.

During her closing statement, Winebrenner pointed out that Indiana’s good-time credit rules cut sentences in half, which is accurate. But then she went further, saying the Indiana Department of Correction has a way of making their own rules and finding ways to cut sentences.

“That’s just false,” Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan said. The General Assembly makes rules regarding prison time, and the DOC has no ability to arbitrarily reduce a person’s sentence.

Squiller said Winebrenner played to the fears of the jury by giving “the impression that if you don’t give him life in prison, (the DOC) can cut him loose.”

He argued this should be considered fundamental error and requires a new trial.

But Flores countered that the defense didn’t object at trial and the judge’s jury instructions “cured the defect.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 16, 2011 09:36 AM
Posted to Upcoming Oral Arguments