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Justices uphold murderer's convictions

September 28, 2011

The Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed that a man will serve life in prison without parole for his role in the murders of seven people in Indianapolis in 2006.

Desmond Turner and James Stewart were convicted of seven counts of murder, robbery and other charges related to the shooting deaths of seven family members on Hamilton Avenue in Indianapolis. Turner received life in prison without parole plus 88 years; Stewart received a term of 425 years, which was later revised to 421 on appeal. A footnote revealed that the justices also entered an order denying Stewart’s petition to transfer. At issue in the instant case are Turner’s convictions.

He challenged the testimony of Indianapolis Marion County Forensic Services Agency firearms and tool mark examiner Michael Putzek dealing with the discovery of  critical tool marks on certain items found at the crime scene and at where Turner stayed after the murders. He also challenged the admittance of other testimony, as well as claimed that his right to confrontation was denied.

In Desmond Turner v. State of Indiana, No. 49S00-0912-CR-565, the justices rejected Turner’s claims that Putzek’s opinion on the tool marks of certain items were made by a common tool was improper because it didn’t meet Indiana Evidence Rule 702(b)’s threshold for scientific reliability, and that inconsistencies in the examination process rendered the results of the process unreliable. They weren’t persuaded by Turner’s argument that because there was no known suspect firearm in the case, expert testimony identifying fired cartridge casings to unfired cartridges based on tool marks on the case sidewall is inadmissible.

The high court also found Turner wasn’t denied the right to confrontation. Although the trial court erred in allowing testimony that Turner’s mother alledgedly relayed a message from Turner to a female friend of his, that error does not require reversal. A reasonable fact finder could have found by a reasonable doubt that Turner either actually committed or participated as an accomplice in the crimes for which he was convicted, wrote Justice Robert Rucker.
 

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