Judge takes on death penalty decision

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
In the week ahead, an Evansville judge could be the first Hoosier jurist to hand down a death sentence since state law changed in 2002.

Vanderburgh Circuit Judge Carl Heldt is scheduled to conduct a sentencing hearing Friday morning for Daniel Ray Wilkes, who jurors convicted last month on three counts of murder for the April 2006 slayings of an Evansville mother and her two daughters, ages 13 and 8.

While they agreed on the guilt phase of the trial, jurors came back deadlocked 11-1 on the penalty Wilkes should face for the crimes. Judge Heldt, who's been on the bench for almost a decade, will pick up that decision.

The change that took effect six years ago requires a judge to follow a jury's sentencing recommendation, which in this case would mean unsealing verdict forms jurors had completed before announcing the impasse. Prior to the law change, judges only needed to consider the jury's recommendation and could enter a different penalty in a capital case.

A judge has not been called to do this since the change, according to Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart, who tracks death penalty cases and runs a Web site on them at

This case could hinge on what jurors pointed out about aggravators, Stewart said. During the penalty phase, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco pointed to aggravators as being the multiple murders and one victim being younger than 12.

Because there wasn't a unanimous penalty phase ruling, Stewart said jurors may not have determined any aggravating circumstances existed. However, jurors may have done that by unanimously agreeing on the conviction for the three murders, thereby showing that those aggravators exist, he said.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues