Judges divided on retrial for voluntary manslaughter

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In a case of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a man’s conviction of voluntary manslaughter, which the state chose to charge him with after he shot and killed his brother-in-law in what he claimed was self-defense.

Billy Brantley lived with his sister Martha Gunn, her husband Bruce Gunn and the couple’s minor son, Sean. Bruce had a history of chronic physical and mental health problems. He and his wife often verbally fought with each other and he was once arrested for domestic battery for choking Martha.

On July 14, 2014, after returning from a job interview, Brantley heard the couple fighting. The two were seated while arguing. Bruce was asked by Brantley to calm down, but he said he was going to “take care of all of his problems,” as he stood up. Brantley, believing Bruce was holding a knife fatally shot Brantley one time. The object turned out to be Bruce’s glasses.

The state charged Brantley with voluntary manslaughter, which the Court of Appeals pointed out it could not find an Indiana case in which someone hadn’t been charged or convicted of that crime who hadn’t also been charged with murder, although it does appear in the criminal code as its own crime. Brantley was convicted of the charge.

The state must prove sudden heat whether the charge is brought as a stand-alone charge or as a lesser included offense to murder, Judge Edward Najam wrote. And in this case, the state failed to produce any evidence, let alone prove by a reasonable doubt, that Brantley acted under “sudden heat” when he knowingly killed Bruce, he continued.

Here, neither party presented any evidence of sudden heat or made argument to the jury that Brantley acted under sudden heat. There was no evidence presented that Brantley was angry, enraged, suddenly resentful, or in terror,” Najam wrote. “There was no evidence that Brantley was anything but calm at all relevant times. And the State never argued otherwise to the jury … .”

Najam and Judge Melissa May wrote that the state cannot retry Brantley because of the insufficient evidence, leading to a dissent from Judge L. Mark Bailey. He took issue with a jury instruction that said “the state has conceded the existence of sudden heat by charging voluntary manslaughter instead of murder.”

Bailey wrote that there is evidence of provocation and a sudden killing, so there is evidence from which the jury could conclude that Brantley acted in sudden heat. He would permit retrial on the charge of voluntary manslaughter and remand to the trial court.  

The case is Billy Brantley v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1606-CR-1401.


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  1. Don't we have bigger issues to concern ourselves with?

  2. Anyone who takes the time to study disciplinary and bar admission cases in Indiana ... much of which is, as a matter of course and by intent, off the record, would have a very difficult time drawing lines that did not take into account things which are not supposed to matter, such as affiliations, associations, associates and the like. Justice Hoosier style is a far departure than what issues in most other parts of North America. (More like Central America, in fact.) See, e.g., When while the Indiana court system end the cruel practice of killing prophets of due process and those advocating for blind justice?

  3. Wouldn't this call for an investigation of Government corruption? Chief Justice Loretta Rush, wrote that the case warranted the high court’s review because the method the Indiana Court of Appeals used to reach its decision was “a significant departure from the law.” Specifically, David wrote that the appellate panel ruled after reweighing of the evidence, which is NOT permissible at the appellate level. **But yet, they look the other way while an innocent child was taken by a loving mother who did nothing wrong"

  4. Different rules for different folks....

  5. I would strongly suggest anyone seeking mediation check the experience of the mediator. There are retired judges who decide to become mediators. Their training and experience is in making rulings which is not the point of mediation.