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. It's an appreciable step taken by the government to curb the child abuse that are happening in the schools. Employees in the schools those are selected without background check can not be trusted. A thorough background check on the teachers or any other other new employees must be performed to choose the best and quality people. Those who are already employed in the past should also be checked for best precaution. The future of kids can be saved through this simple process. However, the checking process should be conducted by the help of a trusted background checking agency(https://www.affordablebackgroundchecks.com/).

  2. Almost everything connects to internet these days. From your computers and Smartphones to wearable gadgets and smart refrigerators in your home, everything is linked to the Internet. Although this convenience empowers usto access our personal devices from anywhere in the world such as an IP camera, it also deprives control of our online privacy. Cyber criminals, hackers, spies and everyone else has realized that we don’t have complete control on who can access our personal data. We have to take steps to to protect it like keeping Senseless password. Dont leave privacy unprotected. Check out this article for more ways: https://www.purevpn.com/blog/data-privacy-in-the-age-of-internet-of-things/

  3. You need to look into Celadon not paying sign on bonuses. We call get the run

  4. My parents took advantage of the fact that I was homeless in 2012 and went to court and got Legal Guardianship I my 2 daughters. I am finally back on my feet and want them back, but now they want to fight me on it. I want to raise my children and have them almost all the time on the weekends. Mynparents are both almost 70 years old and they play favorites which bothers me a lot. Do I have a leg to stand on if I go to court to terminate lehal guardianship? My kids want to live with me and I want to raise them, this was supposed to be temporary, and now it is turning into a fight. Ridiculous

  5. Here's my two cents. While in Texas in 2007 I was not registered because I only had to do it for ten years. So imagine my surprise as I find myself forced to register in Texas because indiana can't get their head out of their butt long enough to realize they passed an ex post facto law in 2006. So because Indiana had me listed as a failure to register Texas said I had to do it there. Now if Indiana had done right by me all along I wouldn't need the aclu to defend my rights. But such is life.

ADVERTISEMENT