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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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