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Court affirms, denies challenge to DNA evidence, new mid-trial witness

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The Court of Appeals today affirmed a man’s convictions and sentence for felony robbery despite his challenge to whether the trial court properly admitted DNA evidence and allowed the testimony of a witness discovered mid-trial.

In Charles J. Kennedy v. State of Indiana, No. 89A04-0907-CR-380, Charles Kennedy appealed his convictions and 27-year sentence for Class A felony robbery and Class A felony conspiracy to commit robbery. In addition to addressing whether the trial court properly admitted DNA evidence implicating Kennedy and permitting the testimony of a witness not discovered until mid-trial, the court was asked whether Kennedy’s sentence was inappropriate

On April 2, 2007, then-16-year-old Charles Kennedy and Derek Willis were driving around Richmond and discussed beating up and robbing someone. At around 10 p.m., they followed a man walking along the street. Willis first threw a rock at the man’s leg but the man kept walking. Kennedy then approached the man and hit him in the face with a chunk of asphalt. Kennedy took the man’s wallet, and Willis took a backpack that contained a laptop computer. The man, who could not remember anything about the attack, suffered a fractured skull and a collapsed lung.

A few weeks later, Willis confessed to police and told them of Kennedy’s role in the robbery. The state charged Kennedy and Willis with one count of Class A felony robbery. Kennedy and Willis filed what were effectively plea agreements in which both would plead guilty to Class B felony robbery, with Willis receiving a sentence of 15 years with 5 years suspended and Kennedy receiving a sentence of 20 years with 5 years suspended. Willis followed through with his plea and was sentenced accordingly. Kennedy then got new counsel and withdrew his agreement. On Jan.29, 2008, the state amended the information against Kennedy to include the Class A felony conspiracy to commit robbery charge.

Indiana State Police lab DNA analyst Nicole Keeling conducted DNA testing on the piece of asphalt that had been used to bludgeon the victim. She issued during the next few months three separate certificates of analysis that concluded the victim was the source of the major DNA profile found on the asphalt, and that Kennedy “cannot be excluded” as a contributor to DNA on the asphalt. She also concluded that Willis’ DNA was not found on the asphalt.

The jury found Kennedy guilty Oct. 23, 2008, and on May 20, 2009, the trial court sentenced Kennedy to 27 years with 3 years suspended on each Class A felony charge, with the sentences to run concurrently.

Kennedy challenged the admissibility of the DNA on procedural grounds for alleged violation of discovery rules and on substantive grounds for the state’s alleged failure to establish the scientific veracity of the test results. Kennedy’s counsel during trial had brought in Ranajit Chakraborty, a nationally recognized DNA analysis expert, who vigorously challenged the underpinnings of Keeling’s test results, questioning how Keeling conducted the testing.  

“Kennedy is challenging the very highly technical details of how Keeling conducted her testing. We believe this is the very reason the rules of evidence provide for expert witness testimony. The details of how DNA testing is conducted are beyond the ready grasp of laypersons, or judges and lawyers for that matter. Furthermore, DNA testing is not always a black-and-white science. Keeling, whom Kennedy recognizes as a qualified expert in this field, testified that DNA analysts almost always have to exercise some degree of discretion in testing. Chakraborty also agreed that trained and qualified DNA analysts can have reasonable disagreements regarding proper test results. We believe this clearly is a case where the dispute between Keeling and Chakraborty regarding the precise details of her testing methods goes to the weight of her results, not their admissibility. Kennedy was permitted to and in fact did present to the jury a detailed critique of Keeling’s methods. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the results into evidence,” wrote Judge Michael Barnes.

Regarding witness Megan Felty, she was not discovered as a state’s witness until the middle of Kennedy’s trial. Felty had been Kennedy’s high school classmate and claimed that he’d told her in October 2007 about his participation in the robbery. She had not told anyone until Oct. 8, 2008, when she told her father, who called the prosecutor’s office. Kennedy didn’t seek a continuance with his motion to exclude Felty’s testimony and he even refused the trial court’s offer of a one-day continuance in order to investigate her possible testimony. Kennedy therefore waived any claim of error with respect to the court’s decision to permit Felty to testify. For guidance, the court relied on Wilson v. State, 533 N.E.2d 114 (Ind. 1989), and noted there was no indication the state engaged in any misconduct.

In addressing Kennedy’s argument that his aggregate 27-year sentence, with 3 years suspended, is inappropriate, the court disagreed and affirmed.
 

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  1. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

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  3. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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