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COA affirms murder conviction and sentence over self-defense claim

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An Indianapolis man who was convicted and sentenced to 85 years in prison for killing a man who threatened his life and the lives of people inside his home lost his appeal Friday.

Billy Russell claimed in his appeal that Marion Superior Court erred by failing to offer the jury his tendered instruction on a claim of self-defense and that the jury had the option of convicting him of voluntary manslaughter. Russell also claimed the court erred because it didn’t completely bifurcate his murder trial from his trial on a charge of possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon. He was found guilty on all charges and the jury imposed a 55-year murder sentence enhanced by 30 years for a habitual offender finding.

Russell lived in a home he shared with his grandmother, his girlfriend, her child and a female friend who was the ex-girlfriend of Jairme Wilburn. According to court records, Wilburn showed up at Russell’s house after 11 p.m. on Sept. 18, 2010, apparently intoxicated, and Wilburn and his ex-girlfriend argued outside. Wilburn refused to leave after she went back inside the house.

Russell told Wilburn’s ex-girlfriend she needed to handle the situation, and after she went back outside, Wilburn struck her in the face multiple times and threatened to kill her, witnesses said. She went back inside the house but refused to call 911, according to the record.

Some time later, Wilburn entered the house looking for his ex-girlfriend and refused to leave without her. Russell retrieved a handgun from the house and waited outside as Wilburn threatened to return and shoot up the house. He said, “I’ll kill every (expletive) in this house.”

Russell drew his gun while Wilburn was facing away and said, “You’re not going to leave, n-----,” and shot him in the back of the head.

In Billy Russell v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1203-CR-148, a panel of the Court of Appeals found no error or abuse of discretion in the claims Russell raised on appeal. The COA noted the court instruction given to the jury was taken directly from the self-defense statute, repeatedly advising the jury that Russell had to have “reasonably” believed in the danger facing him and in the amount of force used against that danger.

“There’s no indication that Mr. Russell went out from the house just simply to commit a murder,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the panel. “However, even if Russell did not premeditate Wilburn’s murder and Wilburn acted provocatively immediately before the shooting, there is considerable evidence of Russell’s poor character.”

The court also cited Hines v. State, 794 N.E.2d 469 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), in which it found an abuse of discretion for a court to refuse to bifurcate a SVF charge and another felony charge, robbery in the case of Hines.

“We conclude that although the trial court could have completely bifurcated trial of the SVF charge from the murder charge, Hines did not require it so long as no mention was made of Russell’s alleged 'serious violent felon' status or of his criminal history as part of the murder trial,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the panel. “The trial court’s partial bifurcation accomplished that goal.”

The court also found that Russell, who was 26 at the time of the murder, had a criminal history beginning with juvenile referrals at age 8 that did not make his sentence inappropriate. “Russell has consistently and for many, many years demonstrated a complete inability to comply with the law, whether he has been free, on probation or community corrections, or even while incarcerated,” Barnes wrote.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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