Judge takes on death penalty decision

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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In the week ahead, an Evansville judge could be the first Hoosier jurist to hand down a death sentence since state law changed in 2002.

Vanderburgh Circuit Judge Carl Heldt is scheduled to conduct a sentencing hearing Friday morning for Daniel Ray Wilkes, who jurors convicted last month on three counts of murder for the April 2006 slayings of an Evansville mother and her two daughters, ages 13 and 8.

While they agreed on the guilt phase of the trial, jurors came back deadlocked 11-1 on the penalty Wilkes should face for the crimes. Judge Heldt, who's been on the bench for almost a decade, will pick up that decision.

The change that took effect six years ago requires a judge to follow a jury's sentencing recommendation, which in this case would mean unsealing verdict forms jurors had completed before announcing the impasse. Prior to the law change, judges only needed to consider the jury's recommendation and could enter a different penalty in a capital case.

A judge has not been called to do this since the change, according to Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart, who tracks death penalty cases and runs a Web site on them at

This case could hinge on what jurors pointed out about aggravators, Stewart said. During the penalty phase, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco pointed to aggravators as being the multiple murders and one victim being younger than 12.

Because there wasn't a unanimous penalty phase ruling, Stewart said jurors may not have determined any aggravating circumstances existed. However, jurors may have done that by unanimously agreeing on the conviction for the three murders, thereby showing that those aggravators exist, he said.

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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.