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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Ind. Courts - "Court to review life sentence in teacher's slaying" [Updated]

At 9 AM tomorrow morning, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in Robert Lewis, III v. State of Indiana.

This evening Dan Carden of the NWI Times has a good story about the upcoming argument. This is particularly helpful because this case is a direct appeal from the trial court, and thus there was no Court of Appeals review. Some quotes from the story:

The question of whether judges have the same options as juries in sentencing the most heinous Indiana murderers could determine if a Gary man spends life in prison without the possibility of parole for raping and killing a Griffith schoolteacher. * * *

A Lake County jury convicted Lewis following a 10-day trial, but deadlocked in the separate sentencing phase.

The jurors were unable to reach a verdict on whether the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Lewis murdered Kocsis while committing or attempting to commit sodomy, a component known as the aggravator that's required for the jury to sentence Lewis to life without parole.

Under Indiana law, if a jury agrees the aggravator is proven and recommends life without parole -- the functional equivalent of the death penalty -- the judge is required to follow the jury's recommendation.

But if a jury cannot agree to either life without parole or a term of years sentence, as in this case, the jury is discharged and the sentence decided by the judge alone.

Lake Superior Judge Diane Ross Boswell said in that situation her reading of the statute requires she impose life without parole -- and cannot consider a term-of-years sentence -- so long as the prosecution proves the aggravator and it outweighs any potential mitigators, which Boswell said it did.

Accordingly, she sentenced Lewis to spend the remainder of his life behind bars. He is incarcerated at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

Lewis' appellate attorney, Marce Gonzalez Jr., of Dyer, will argue Thursday to the Indiana Supreme Court that the life-without-parole sentencing process is flawed, because judges should have the same option as juries to consider a term-of-years sentence as an alternative to life without parole.

"It would be inconsistent with the intent of the statute in providing for jury discretion in such a significant decision-making process ... by removing a judge's discretion on the ultimate issue," Gonzalez said in his written arguments to the high court.

There is much more in the story which, in addition, provides links to the briefs in the case.

You will be able to watch the argument live (and archived).

[Updated 2/8/15]
Here, from Feb. 5th, is Ruth Ann Krause's story on the oral argument, as reported in the Gary Post Tribune.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 4, 2015 06:50 PM
Posted to Upcoming Oral Arguments