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Defendant received ineffective trial counsel assistance in murder case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a Delaware County man’s post-conviction relief petition finding his trial attorney was ineffective in not ensuring the jury was properly instructed on the elements of murder, voluntary manslaughter and the state’s burden of proof regarding sudden heat.

James Roberson and Antron Young were at a Muncie nightclub in 2006 when Young exchanged angry words with Roberson and bumped and pushed him. The two had to be separated outside the club from fighting after the club closed at 3 a.m. When they both ended up at the same convenience store later that morning, Young punched Robinson in the face, leading Roberson to pull a gun and shoot at Young. Two bullets initially struck him and after he fell to the ground, Roberson fired more shots, telling him to “die.” Young died from the wounds.

Roberson was charged with murder, but claimed self defense. The trial court also gave instructions on voluntary manslaughter as a lesser included offense of murder, but not at the request of Roberson’s attorney. His attorney didn’t object to any of the instructions and Roberson was convicted as charged. His conviction was upheld on direct appeal, leading Roberson to file this petition for post-conviction relief.

In James Roberson v. State of Indiana, 18A02-1204-PC-306, Roberson claimed he received ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel with respect to not objecting to the content of the trial court’s instructions regarding voluntary manslaughter and not challenging them on direct appeal as fundamentally erroneous. His PCR petition was denied.

The appellate judges reversed, finding Roberson’s trial attorney was ineffective.

“The jury here was not properly instructed. In addition to the legally erroneous language of instruction 13, instruction 4, defining the elements of murder, makes no mention of the State’s burden to disprove the existence of sudden heat,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote.

“It was a clearly incorrect statement of the law to inform the jury that it could only consider convicting Roberson of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder if it first found him not guilty of murder, given that the jury instruction for murder did not inform the jury that the State had to disprove the existence of sudden heat.”

The case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

 

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