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Judges uphold admission of robbery confession

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A trial court did not err in admitting evidence of uncharged misconduct from another incident during a defendant’s trial for robbery, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday. The evidence contained a letter that helped corroborate the man’s confession to the robbery.

Michael Freed robbed a Village Pantry convenience store in Lafayette in July 2008. He got $115 from the cash register, and the act was caught on tape, but the tape didn’t catch Freed’s face because he was wearing a disguise. It did record his voice. Freed was later arrested on charges of burglary and forgery for breaking into a couple’s home and stealing a checkbook. While in jail on those charges, Freed decided to have someone murder the couple so they couldn’t testify at trial.

He wrote a letter requesting the murder and gave it to another inmate to pass along to a hit man. The letter also contained a sentence saying “Check for an unsolved VP robbery in July of 08 at Concord and brady ln.” This was the equivalent of a confession to the VP robbery.

The other inmate notified police, who interviewed Freed. Freed also told another inmate about details from the VP robbery. DNA collected from Freed couldn’t exclude him as a contributor to DNA found on the hat worn during the robbery. A police detective also identified Freed’s voice as matching the one on the tape.

At Freed’s trial for robbery and theft relating to the VP robbery, Freed’s jailhouse letter containing the confession was admitted and the two inmates testified. Freed was convicted of Class B felony robbery.

In Michael Freed v. State of Indiana, No. 79A02-1010-CR-1187, he challenged on appeal the admission of the letter which contained information on the burglary, forgery and solicitation charges stemming from the break-in at the couple’s home. The judges affirmed its admittance, finding the uncharged conduct was relevant for a purpose other than suggesting the propensity to commit robbery. The burglary, forgery and murder solicitation contextualized Freed’s jailhouse letter and made it more probable that the confession to the VP robbery was authored by him, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.

While there was potential for prejudice, the judges found the probative value and need for the evidence was appreciable in the case. They noted that the trial court was conscientious in admonishing the jury that Freed’s uncharged misconduct – the burglary, forgery and murder solicitation charges – wasn’t admitted to demonstrate character or prove action in conformity therewith. There was also sufficient evidence to sustain his conviction, the appellate court ruled.

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