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Court orders re-trial after jury instruction error

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has ordered a re-trial for a man convicted of attempted murder after ruling today the trial court failed to properly instruct the jury on accomplice liability.

In Robert Tiller v. State of Indiana, No. 45A03-0802-CR-78, Robert Tiller was convicted of attempted murder, confinement, and escape after he and three others bound Richard Cannon, put him in the trunk of a car, and Louis James shot Cannon once in the face after opening the trunk.

Although he didn't object to the jury instructions on attempted murder and accomplice liability for attempted murder at trial, Tiller argued on appeal that the instructions constituted fundamental error. The trial court instruction correctly stated the law as it generally pertained to accomplice liability, but the instruction didn't adequately inform the jury that the specific intent requirement for attempted murder also applied to accomplice liability for attempted murder, wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander.

"We must therefore conclude, as did our Supreme Court in Hopkins, that the trial court's instruction on accomplice liability constituted fundamental error in that it failed to adequately instruct the jury that it was required to find that Tiller possessed the specific intent to kill Cannon when he aided, supported, helped, or assisted his accomplices commit the crime of attempted murder," wrote the judge.

There was sufficient evidence to support Tiller's conviction of attempted murder, so the appellate court remanded for a re-trial on the charge of attempted murder.

The Court of Appeals also found the state made a good faith effort and employed sufficient measures to find Cannon and secure his attendance at trial, so Tiller's Sixth Amendment right to confrontation wasn't violated when Cannon's disposition was read into evidence after he failed to appear to testify at Tiller's trial.

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