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COA: Admission of evidence of phone number did not affect verdict

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Because of overwhelming evidence placing the defendant at the scene of a shooting, the admission of additional evidence that before the shooting, a victim made calls to a phone number associated with the shooter did not affect the verdict, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Friday.

In Michael A. Lane v. State of Indiana, 82A05-1212-CR-640, Michael Lane appealed his convictions of murder, Class B felony conspiracy to commit dealing in a scheduled II controlled substance and two counts of Class C felony criminal recklessness. Lane was to bring money to a drug deal arranged by Jason Derrington for Michael Hooper. When Hooper, his cousin Frank Hurst, and Derrington showed up at the agreed location, Lane got into Hurst’s car with the money. During the transaction, Lane took off and started shooting at the men, killing Hooper and injuring the other two.

Lane appealed his convictions, arguing the trial court abused its discretion by rejecting his tendered jury instruction on reckless homicide as a lesser-included offense of murder and by admitting hearsay evidence after concluding Lane had opened the door to this previously excluded evidence.

The COA found that based on the specific facts of this case, a jury could not reasonably conclude that Lane acted recklessly but not knowingly when he fired the shot that killed Hooper, so an instruction on reckless homicide wasn’t warranted.

During the trial, evidence was admitted that Derrington called a number with a (678) area code four times on the night of the shooting, but that number was not initially linked to a particular person. But evidence linking Lane to that number was introduced through detective Brian Melton, who said that number belonged to Lane’s cousin Obie Davis, whom he had interviewed shortly after the shooting. The issue arose during cross-examination of Melton by defense counsel.

Lane claimed the trial court erroneously determined that he had opened the door to hearsay evidence linking him to the (678) phone number.  The appellate court found Davis’ statement to police regarding the number was testimonial, and the trial court erred in concluding Lane opened the door to the admission of the testimonial statement. A defendant can open the door to the admission of evidence otherwise barred by the Confrontation Clause, but that waiver must be “clear and intentional,” which was not the case here.

But this does not require reversal of Lane’s convictions.

“We are confident that the brief testimonial hearsay evidence admitted through Detective Melton was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Although the evidence regarding the phone number tended to establish some link between Lane and the crime, this link had already been shown by other overwhelming evidence establishing that Lane came to the scene to transact a drug deal that ended badly,” he wrote.

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  1. For many years this young man was "family" being my cousin's son. Then he decided to ignore my existence and that of my daughter who was very hurt by his actions after growing up admiring, Jason. Glad he is doing well, as for his opinion, if you care so much you wouldn't ignore the feelings of those who cared so much about you for years, Jason.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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