ILNews

Indiana Supreme Court upholds death penalty

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Indiana Supreme Court today upheld the death penalty for a man convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters. In doing so, the high court re-evaluated its stance on what it means when a jury fails to recommend a sentence.

In Danny Ray Wilkes v. State of Indiana, No. 10S00-0808-DP-453, Danny Ray Wilkes appealed his convictions of murdering Donna Claspell and her two daughters, ages 8 and 13, in 2006, and his death sentence.

One of Wilkes' many arguments as to why he should be re-sentenced was because the trial court should have considered the jury's inability to arrive at a unanimous sentencing recommendation as a mitigating factor. A divided Supreme Court had previously held in Roche v. State, 596 N.E.2d 896 (Ind. 1992), that no meaning should be interpreted from a jury's failure to reach a recommendation, nor should it be considered as a mitigating factor during the penalty phase. That view was upheld in subsequent cases; however, Justice Theodore Boehm wrote that the increased emphasis on the role of the jury in sentencing gives the court a reason to reconsider Roche and its progeny.

The justices found the jury's uncertainty to be a relevant consideration rather than a mitigating circumstance that the trial court should consider in determining an appropriate sentence.

"We therefore ... hold that it is 'appropriate' for the trial court to consider the fact that the jury ­- whose recommendation would otherwise be binding ­- could not agree," wrote Justice Boehm. "We do not find the trial court's adherence to then-existing precedent to be error, much less reversible error."

On this issue, Justice Brent Dickson dissented because he continued to believe a jury's inability to reach a unanimous sentencing recommendation is logically unrelated to the defendant's conduct or personal circumstances, so it shouldn't be considered.

Wilkes also argued the trial court was required to consider the evidence that he had adjusted to life in prison as a mitigating circumstance, citing Skipper v. South Carolina, 476 U.S. 1, 4 (1986).

The trial court was required to consider all the evidence relevant to mitigation, including Wilkes' positive adjustment to incarceration. Both the jury and the trial court heard this evidence and found the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating ones, wrote Justice Boehm. Under Skipper, that is all that is required.

The high court found a detective's statement expressing his opinion of Wilkes' guilt was problematic under Indiana Evidence Rule 704(b), but that one line was relevant only to guilt and not the penalty phase, and was harmless in view of the forensic evidence and confessions supporting Wilkes' guilt.

The justices also affirmed the admittance of transcripts and recordings of four interviews in which Wilkes acknowledged his guilt; the use of "special verdict" forms; other issues Wilkes raised on appeal.

"We cannot say that the death sentences in this case are inappropriate. The nature of the offense is a triple murder of a mother and her two children. The murders, especially of Donna and Sydne, were committed in a particularly gruesome manner. We have upheld death sentences in similar cases," wrote Justice Boehm.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Building social-media presence is inevitable for Law Firms. These tips are very useful to strengthen social media presence. Thank you for sharing this. NirwanLawCorp.com.

  2. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  3. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

  4. We are a Finance Industry Company professionals with over 15 Years Experience and a focus on providing Bank Guarantee and Standby Letter of Credit from some of the World Top 25 Prime Banks primarily from Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC,Credit Suisse e.t.c. FEATURES: Amounts from $1 million to 5 Billion+ Euro’s or US Dollars Great Attorney Trust Account Protection Delivered via MT760, MT799 and MT103 Swift with Full Bank Responsibility Brokers Always Protected Purchase Instrument of BG/SBLC : 32%+2% Min Face Value cut = EUR/USD 1M-5B Lease Instrument of BG/SBLC : 4%+2% Min Face Value cut = EUR/USD 1M-5B Interested Agents/Brokers, Investors and Individual proposing international project funding should contact us for directives.We will be glad to share our working procedures with you upon request. We Facilitate Bank instruments SBLC for Lease and Purchase. Whether you are a new startup, medium or large establishment that needs a financial solution to fund/get your project off the ground or business looking for extra capital to expand your operation,our company renders credible and trusted bank guarantee provider who are willing to fund and give financing solutions that suits your specific business needs. We help you secure and issue sblc and bank guarantee for your trade, projects and investment from top AA rated world Banks like HSBC, Barclays, Dutch Ing Bank, Llyods e.t.c because that’s the best and safest strategy for our clients.e.t.c DESCRIPTION OF INSTRUMENTS 1. Instrument: Funds backed Bank Guarantee(BG) ICC-600 2. Currency : USD/EURO 3. Age of Issue: Fresh Cut 4. Term: One year and One day 5. Contract Amount: United State Dollars/Euros (Buyers Face Value) 6. Price : Buy:32%+1, Lease: 4%+2 7. Subsequent tranches: To be mutually agreed between both parties 8. Issuing Bank: Top RATED world banks like HSBC, Barclays, ING Dutch Bank, Llyods e.t.c 9. Delivery Term: Pre advise MT199 or MT799 first. Followed By SWIFT MT760 10. Payment Term: MT799 & Settlement via MT103 11. Hard Copy: By Bank Bonded Courier Interested Agents,Brokers, Investors and Individual proposing international project funding should contact us for directives.We will be glad to share our working procedures with you upon request. Name:Richardson McAnthony Contact Mail : intertekfinance@gmail.com

  5. Affordable Loan Offer (ericloanfinance@hotmail.com) NEED A LOAN?Sometime i really wanna help those in a financial problems.i was wondering why some people talks about inability to get a loan from a bank/company. have you guys ever try Eric Benson lending service.it cost dollars to loan from their company. my aunty from USA,just got a home loan from Eric Benson Lending banking card service.and they gave her a loan of 8,000,000 USD. they give out loan from 100,000 USD - 100,000,000 USD. try it yourself and testimony. have a great day as you try.Kiss & Hug. Contact E-mail: ericloanfinance@hotmail.com

ADVERTISEMENT