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Woman didn't prove she should get new trial

February 6, 2009

Finding a defendant didn't meet her burden of proving her newly discovered evidence claim, the Indiana Court of Appeals today upheld the denial of her petition for post-conviction relief. The appellate court also ruled the court didn't err in excluding expert testimony during her post-conviction hearing.

In Alexa Whedon v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0808-PC-677, Alexa Whedon was convicted of murder under an accomplice liability theory; the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed her conviction and sentence on direct appeal.

In 2004, she filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging she had newly discovered evidence based on information from Michelle Griffin. Griffin testified that she was in jail on a forgery charge at the same time as Whedon and three other inmates who testified at Whedon's trial about what Whedon had told them regarding her connection to the murder.

Griffin claimed the women were lying and banded together on one story to benefit their own incarceration. The post-conviction court questioned Griffin's credibility and ruled her testimony was just mere impeachment evidence of the state's witnesses and doesn't meet the newly discovered evidence test.

The Court of Appeals found Whedon failed to prove three of the nine requirements of when new evidence mandates a new trial when it found Griffin's testimony was merely impeaching, not worthy of credit, and wouldn't probably produce different results at trial. The appellate court only addressed the credibility issue. The post-conviction court found Griffin to be vague in her answers and lacking credibility, so Whedon failed to show she's entitled to a new trial, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.

The Court of Appeals examined the testimony of Whedon's expert witness, Rob Warden, who spoke about incentivized witnesses and wrongful convictions. Warden had conducted studies on wrongful convictions involving "snitches." The post-conviction court excluded his testimony on the grounds it violated Ind. Evid. Rules 702 and 704.

The subject of "incentivized testimony" isn't a scientific, technical, or other specialized area in which an expert must guide the trier of fact, wrote Judge Vaidik. Because his testimony fell within the trier of fact's common sense, it wasn't helpful and was properly excluded. In addition, his testimony implies the witnesses in this case didn't testify truthfully or were more likely than not to lie; Rule 704(b), she wrote, prohibits a witness from testifying about whether a witness has testified truthfully.

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