The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a defendant’s claim that the state should have to prove that he knew his estranged wife was pregnant when he killed her in order to seek a sentence enhancement under the Indiana feticide enhancement statute.
Tyler White and Amy Meyer had one son together while married. White was verbally abusive during their relationship, and they filed for divorce. They shared custody of their son, and the day before a provisional custody hearing, White shot Meyer twice, killing her. She was around three months pregnant at the time. The baby did not survive.
The state charged White with murder and sought an enhanced sentence under the feticide enhancement statute. White was found guilty of murder and in the second phase of trial, the jury found the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder caused the death of the baby. He was sentenced to a total of 70 years, which included the 10-year feticide enhancement.
In Tyler A. White v. State of Indiana, 90A04-1111-CR-621, White argued the court erred in finding certain testimony by witnesses as to what Meyer had told them about White admissible under Evidence Rule 804(b)(5), the “forfeiture by wrongdoing” hearsay exception; that the feticide enhancement statute is unconstitutional; and the trial court should have allowed him to enter evidence that Meyer previously had a miscarriage.
“We hold that the preponderance of the evidence supports a determination that White killed Amy to prevent her from testifying at the provisional custody hearing,” Judge Edward Najam wrote, which allows for the hearsay evidence to be admitted. “The fact that the conflict escalated one day before a custody hearing is substantial evidence of White’s intent when he shot Amy.”
The judges found the feticide enhancement statute is not unconstitutional as White argued because it doesn’t require proof that the person committing the murder had knowledge that the victim was pregnant or intended to end the pregnancy.
“Thus, the legislature’s intent on this issue is clear, and the State need not prove a defendant’s mens rea when it seeks a sentencing enhancement for feticide,” Najam wrote.
The appellate court also affirmed that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding evidence that Meyer previously suffered a miscarriage.