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COA affirms murder conviction, sentence of 14-year-old

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When asked whether the conviction of and sentence for felony murder were appropriate findings for a 14-year-old offender, the Indiana Court of Appeals today affirmed the Marion Superior Court’s decision.

In Nevin Brooks v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-0911-CR-651, Nevin Brooks had been found guilty of committing acts of murder, felony murder, and robbery following the killing of a man that occurred when Brooks was 14. The juvenile court waived jurisdiction to adult court, which convicted Brooks of all three crimes, and merged the convictions at sentencing. He was sentenced to 55 years.

Brooks appealed, raising the following issues: whether the juvenile court abused its discretion in waiving jurisdiction over Brooks; whether the admission of evidence from a pat-down search was proper under both the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution; whether the trial court should have denied Brooks’ motion for mistrial; whether the state presented sufficient evidence; and whether the sentence imposed was inappropriate.

In the opinion, Senior Judge Betty Barteau wrote the Court of Appeals affirmed the juvenile court’s decision to waive its jurisdiction, and affirmed the trial court’s convictions of and sentence for felony murder.

On March 16, 2008, David Hardwick was fatally shot in the head during a robbery. Following a police investigation, it was determined he was shot at close range while kneeling on the ground. His wallet, watch, and bracelet were not found at the scene.

Approximately 20 minutes after Hardwick was killed, and 2 miles from the crime scene, surveillance video showed a young African-American male, later identified as 14-year-old Brooks, using Hardwick’s ATM card at a service station. Brooks was there in a car with at least two other individuals.

Two days later, a Lawrence Police Officer found Brooks when responding to a dispatch of an armed robbery at a Lawrence apartment complex. Concerned Brooks was armed, the officer did a pat-down search and found bullets on his person. Suspecting there was also a weapon, he handcuffed Brooks and searched for a weapon. Another officer brought the victim of the armed robbery over to Brooks, who identified him as the one who pointed a gun at the victim while robbing him of cash.

A police officer and Brooks’ mother identified Brooks in the surveillance tape from the service station where Hardwick’s card was used shortly after his murder. Forensic testing established the bullets the officer found on Brooks and a bullet recovered from Hardwick’s skull had the same uncommon characteristics.

The juvenile court, following the state’s petition, waived jurisdiction to adult court, where he was found guilty on all three counts and sentenced to 55 years.

In determining whether to waive him to adult court, the record disclosed he had prior encounters with the juvenile justice system, which failed to deter his criminal behavior. The record also disclosed probation workers considered him to be beyond rehabilitation by the juvenile justice system.

As for the search and seizure claims Brooks presented, the Court of Appeals found the description of Brooks was sufficient, and the stop where an officer found bullets similar to the one that killed Hardwick was warranted. The court also couldn’t say the officer’s actions were unreasonable, therefore the bullets were properly admitted as evidence.

“With reference to the character of the offender, we agree that Brooks had a very poor upbringing,” Judge Barteau wrote. “However, growing up in poverty without parental guidance is unfortunately not a rarity, and we do not consider it to be a factor that would cause us to deem an advisory sentence inappropriate. Not everyone who grows up in such an unfortunate environment channels his anger into robbery and murder. …”

“We note that the trial court considered Brooks’ age in fashioning the sentence imposed,” she continued. “The court also considered Brooks’ criminal history. He is not a little boy who can be trusted to mend his erring ways; he is a hardened individual who, in the midst of committing a series of crimes, robbed and murdered a random victim. Given the nature of the offense and the character of the offender, we cannot conclude that the sentence imposed by the trial court is inappropriate.”
 

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