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COA split over whether convicted murderer needs new trial

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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a murder conviction Wednesday after the defendant argued his right to confront witnesses against him was violated. But one judge on the panel agreed with Michael Torres and wrote in his dissent that Torres should have a new trial.

Torres was convicted of carrying a handgun without a license and murder in connection to the shooting death of Darnall Lindsay outside an Indianapolis apartment in 2011. Dr. John Cavanaugh performed the autopsy on Lindsay, but when Torres’ trial was held in July 2013, Cavanaugh had left Marion County. Dr. Joye Carter, the chief forensic pathologist at the Marion County Coroner’s Office, was called by the state as an expert witness. Torres did not object to her testimony and Cavanaugh’s report was admitted into evidence.

Torres claimed the trial court violated his right to confrontation and committed fundamental error when it permitted Carter to testify about the results of the victim’s autopsy when she did not perform the autopsy.

“We do not find fundamental error in the admission of Dr. Carter’s testimony. Dr. Carter was asked whether she had an occasion to ‘look at and examine the autopsy of a Darnell Lindsay, autopsy #12-0024?’ But there is no reference to exactly what was included in that autopsy. Nor was any specific reference made to Dr. Cavanaugh’s report,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the majority in Michael Torres v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1308-CR-727. “When questioned about the number of times the victim had been shot, Dr. Carter referred to ‘the investigation’ and ‘the doctor’s report,’ but it is not apparent from her testimony to which documents she was referring. We therefore cannot conclude that the ‘investigation’ or ‘report’ to which she was referring was Dr. Cavanaugh’s report, or that her testimony otherwise invoked Torres’ right to confront a witness.

The majority, which included Judge L. Mark Bailey, also found any error in admitting Carter’s testimony regarding the number of gunshot wounds the victim sustained and Torres’ claim of self-defense was harmless.

Judge James Kirsch dissented, citing Bullcoming v. New Mexico, __ U.S. __, 131 S. Ct. 2705, 2710 (2011), in which the Supreme Court of the United States has held with respect to autopsy reports that the accused’s right is to be confronted with the analyst who makes the certification and that surrogate testimony does not satisfy the constitutional requirement. He does not believe any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and that there should be a new trial.

 

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  1. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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