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Appellate court upholds murder conviction

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Although the trial court erred in finding a police officer was a skilled witness uniquely qualified to assess a murder victim's truthfulness, it was a harmless error because his testimony was an admissible lay observation, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded today.

In Theotis Tolliver v. State of Indiana, No. 45A03-0906-CR-250, Theotis Tolliver appealed his murder conviction and habitual offender enhancement resulting in 90-year sentence for shooting Benjamin Woodward Jr. Tolliver claimed the trial court erred by letting a police officer testify, based on Woodward's body language, about the "truthful" nature of certain statements made by the victim; by allowing into evidence some of Woodward's statements to his family as statements against interest under Indiana Evidence Rule 804(b)(3); by denying his motion for a continuance when a defense witness didn't appear at trial; and by prohibiting defense counsel from inquiring into certain state's witnesses' possible bias on cross-examination.

Tolliver and Woodward got into an argument after a dice game, which led to Tolliver shooting Woodward in front of several witnesses. Woodward told his family in the hospital Tolliver shot him but that he would take care of it and he wasn't a snitch. He didn't cooperate with police during the investigation. Woodward eventually died of his injuries.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Tolliver that the trial court erred by allowing a police officer to testify as a skilled witness regarding Woodward's body language at the time he made certain statements. The trial court allowed the officer to testify based on his interrogation training. Other jurisdictions have disapproved of body language testimony, and the appellate court was similarly skeptical of the testimony. Because the officer didn't testify regarding Woodward's specific truthfulness but just observed that Woodward was uncooperative, was angry, and didn't want to talk, that testimony is admissible pursuant to Evid. R. 701 as a lay opinion, wrote Judge Cale Bradford. As a result, it was a harmless error.

The Court of Appeals ruled the testimony by Woodward's family members that he told them Tolliver shot him and he would take care of it, shouldn't have been admitted into evidence as an admission against interest. The statements were merely a statement of intent. Given the independent eyewitness testimony identifying Tolliver as the shooter and the gun used to kill Woodward, the introduction of the family's testimony wasn't prejudicial enough to deny Tolliver a fair trial, wrote the judge.

The refusal to grant Tolliver a continuance to locate a defense witness wasn't an abuse of discretion because he had other witnesses testify on his behalf as alibi witnesses. In addition, there was difficulty locating the witness, who was likely uncooperative because he had three active warrants and was being investigated in connection with a murder case.

Finally the Court of Appeals found no error in limiting Tolliver's attorney's cross-examination of state witnesses about possible deals they would receive in exchange for testifying. The purported deals were purely speculative and unsupported by evidence.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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