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Justices affirm 1989 murder convictions

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The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld four murder convictions against a Lakeville man who as a teenager killed his family 20 years ago.

In doing so, justices have determined that a defendant's speedy trial right doesn't include the time for an interlocutory appeal when trial proceedings have been stayed.

Justices issued a unanimous 18-page opinion today in Robert Jeffrey Pelley v. State of Indiana, No. 71S05-0808-CR-446, which affirmed the rulings from St. Joseph Superior Judge Roland Chamblee about two years ago. Aside from the speedy-trial delay issue, justices found evidence sufficient to support the convictions, and the trial judge didn't err in any other aspect.

A jury in 2007 found Pelley guilty of the 1989 murders of his father, stepmother, and two stepsisters. The state presented evidence to support its theory that Pelley, who'd been grounded and not able to attend his senior prom, killed them in order to attend the school event with his girlfriend. He received consecutive 40-year terms totaling 160 years.

Prosecutors hadn't filed charges in the early 1990s, but a new prosecutor did after opening the cold case more than a decade later. When filing charges in 2002, the prosecutor filed an interlocutory appeal based on a third-party discovery dispute that stopped records from being released to the state for use at trial. The appellate court issued a stay but held onto the appeal for two years, despite a rule that puts interlocutory appeals on an expedited review schedule - pushing the state close to its deadline of taking the case to trial within a year as is mandated by Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C) on speedy trials, unless a defendant somehow caused the delay, or if an "emergency" or "court congestion" occurred.

The case finally went to trial in July 2006, and a jury convicted him the following year. In April 2008, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the convictions and held the state's interlocutory appeal was chargeable to the state for purposes of the speedy trial rule and Pelley should be discharged. The appellate panel held the speedy trial rule contained no exception for interlocutory appeals and that Pelley wasn't responsible for the delay caused by prosecutors and the appellate process.

The Attorney General's Office asked justices to reinstate the convictions, and the justices heard arguments in August 2008. During arguments, justices mulled who should be penalized in this case and wondered whether to establish a blanket rule for interlocutory appeals relating to Criminal Rule 4, or whether this case involves details that could be classified as an "emergency" or "congestion."

In analyzing the case, the court relied on Martin v. State, 245 Ind. 224, 228, 194 N.E. 2d 721, 723 (1963), which held neither the prosecutor nor trial judge could control the time required for appeal and most appeals would trigger a dismissal - something the legislature couldn't have intended.

"When trial court proceedings have been stayed pending resolution of the State's interlocutory appeal, the trial court loses jurisdiction to try the defendant and has no ability to speed the appellate process," Justice Theodore Boehm wrote. "As a practical matter, applying the Criminal Rule 4(C) one-year requirement to interlocutory appeals would render an appeal by the State impossible because it would in all likelihood trigger a mandatory discharge of the defendant."

However, Justice Boehm added some advice for the state to consider in these types of cases in the future. He wrote, "Although Appellate Rule 21(A) provides generally for expedited consideration of interlocutory appeals, in the future the State should alert the appellate court when it pursues an interlocutory appeal not chargeable to the defendant so the appellate court can be sensitive to the defendant's interest in avoiding delay."

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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