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Killer’s 50-year conspiracy sentence vacated as double jeopardy

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The sentence of a man convicted of killing his ex-wife was reduced by 50 years Tuesday when the Indiana Court of Appeals granted in part his petition for post-conviction relief.

James R. Willey was convicted in the 1997 strangulation and bludgeoning death of Janice Willey in the garage of her Zionsville home. The state alleged James Willey had hired a friend, Roger Barnard, to kill Janice Willey, but Barnard killed himself shortly after her death, according to the record. A jury found Willey guilty of felony murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, conspiracy to commit burglary, involuntary manslaughter and burglary.

Willey was sentenced to 65 years in prison for felony murder and 50 years on the burglary conspiracy conviction, to be served consecutively for an aggregate 115-year term. His convictions and sentence were affirmed by the Indiana Supreme Court in 1999. On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals in a not-for-publication opinion Tuesday found persuasive caselaw since the crime and sentencing to lift the 50-year sentence.

“We reject all of Willey’s claims but one – his claim that his convictions for conspiracy to commit burglary and felony murder violate Indiana’s constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy, and trial and appellate counsel were ineffective for failing to raise this argument,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the panel in James R. Willey v. State of Indiana (NFP), 06A05-1306-PC-268.

“In light of our Supreme Court’s holding in Grinstead v. State, 845 N.E.2d 1027 (Ind. 2006), we must agree, and therefore vacate his fifty-year sentence for conspiracy to commit burglary.”

Willey, now 69, is held in the Pendleton Correctional Facility. His earliest projected release date had been 2054, according to the Indiana Department of Correction. With the 50-year sentence lifted, he now would be eligible for release in 2029, according to DOC guidelines.

 

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