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State waited too long to file charges, court rules

January 1, 2007
The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a voluntary manslaughter case on grounds that prosecutors waited too long to file charges.

Appellate judges issued a decision today in Ralph Barnett v. State of Indiana, 48A02-0605-CR-389 which stems from a 1993 physical confrontation at the Pendleton Correctional Facility. Barnett got into fight with fellow inmate Ricky Combs after being released from cells for a creation session, and Barnett maneuvered a handmade pick away from Combs before starting to walk away. When Combs attacked again, Barnett pinned him against a nearby gate and stabbed him repeatedly with the knife. Guards broke up the fight and inmates returned to their cells, where guards soon after found Combs bleeding. He later died of the stab wounds after being transported to a hospital.

The state didn't charge Barnett for 12 years, and Barnett filed a motion to dismiss on that eventual charging in July 2005 on grounds that the delay violated his due process rights. The trial judge denied the motion and a jury later found Barnett not guilty of murder, but guilty of a lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.

In its unanimous opinion today, the Court of Appeals wrote that there is no evidence that the delay was necessary and that it hampered Barnett's ability to fully investigate the case and effectively cross-examine witnesses. Along with witnesses, the prosecutor in the case has died, the panel noted.

"Here, Barnett was clearly prejudiced by the State's unexplained and unjustified delay - whether intentional or negligent - in bringing charges," Judge James Kirsch wrote.
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