ILNews

Judge takes on death penalty decision

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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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 http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/death.htm.

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.
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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