ILNews

Court: evidence doesn't support sentence

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Supreme Court threw out a life-without-parole sentence for felony murder because there wasn't proof the killing was "intentional," as state law requires for that penalty.

In Hobert Alan Pittman v. State of Indiana, No. 31S00-0610-CR-355, Hobert Alan Pittman appealed his convictions and sentence of two consecutive life sentences for murdering his father and stepgrandmother, as well as a 73-year sentence for convictions of attempted murder, theft, auto theft, and conspiracy to commit burglary.

Pittman's stepmother, Linda, and stepgrandmother, Myrtle, were returning home and saw Pittman and John Michael Naylor come out of the garage and start shooting at the van his stepmother and stepgrandmother were in. He then got into Linda's Ford Explorer, drove past the van, stopped, and fired more shots into the van. Myrtle died from gunshot wounds and Linda was injured. Later, police found Pittman's father under a tarp in the garage dead from a gunshot wound to the head.

Pittman was charged with two counts of felony murder because his father and stepgrandmother were killed in the course of a burglary. The jury recommended two sentences of life imprisonment without parole, and the trial court also sentenced him to 73 years on the other related convictions.

But the state couldn't support the life-without-parole sentence for the felony murder of Pittman's father, the justices determined. Because Indiana Code Section 35-50-2-9(b)(1) permits a sentence of life without parole only if the defendant has committed a murder by "intentionally" killing someone while committing another crime, the state has to prove the defendant was a major participant and the killing was intentional in order to impose a sentence of life without parole under Subsection (b)(1), Justice Theodore Boehm wrote.

Attempting to support that sentence, the state listed three aggravating factors listed in Indiana Code 35-50-2-(b): that he committed the murders by intentionally killing while committing or attempting to commit burglary; committed the murders lying in wait; and committed the murders while on probation after receiving a sentence for a commission of a felony.

There isn't any evidence Pittman killed his father, Justice Boehm wrote. Both Pittman and Naylor were on the scene, but there is no evidence as to who shot the man. While felony murder can be charged against someone who didn't intentionally or recklessly kill the victim, or may not have even been the killer at all, Pittman can't receive life without parole because that sentence requires proof he intentionally killed his father. As such, the high court set aside Pittman's life-without-parole sentence for felony murder of his father and revised his sentence for the felony murder to a 65-year term to be served consecutively with his other sentences.

The court also ruled on various other aspects of Pittman's appeal, such as the adequacy of the trial court's sentencing order, a motion for mistrial based on trial testimony, and admission of photographic evidence.
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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

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