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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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