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Justices affirm 1989 murder convictions

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The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld four murder convictions against a Lakeville man who as a teenager killed his family 20 years ago.

In doing so, justices have determined that a defendant's speedy trial right doesn't include the time for an interlocutory appeal when trial proceedings have been stayed.

Justices issued a unanimous 18-page opinion today in Robert Jeffrey Pelley v. State of Indiana, No. 71S05-0808-CR-446, which affirmed the rulings from St. Joseph Superior Judge Roland Chamblee about two years ago. Aside from the speedy-trial delay issue, justices found evidence sufficient to support the convictions, and the trial judge didn't err in any other aspect.

A jury in 2007 found Pelley guilty of the 1989 murders of his father, stepmother, and two stepsisters. The state presented evidence to support its theory that Pelley, who'd been grounded and not able to attend his senior prom, killed them in order to attend the school event with his girlfriend. He received consecutive 40-year terms totaling 160 years.

Prosecutors hadn't filed charges in the early 1990s, but a new prosecutor did after opening the cold case more than a decade later. When filing charges in 2002, the prosecutor filed an interlocutory appeal based on a third-party discovery dispute that stopped records from being released to the state for use at trial. The appellate court issued a stay but held onto the appeal for two years, despite a rule that puts interlocutory appeals on an expedited review schedule - pushing the state close to its deadline of taking the case to trial within a year as is mandated by Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C) on speedy trials, unless a defendant somehow caused the delay, or if an "emergency" or "court congestion" occurred.

The case finally went to trial in July 2006, and a jury convicted him the following year. In April 2008, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the convictions and held the state's interlocutory appeal was chargeable to the state for purposes of the speedy trial rule and Pelley should be discharged. The appellate panel held the speedy trial rule contained no exception for interlocutory appeals and that Pelley wasn't responsible for the delay caused by prosecutors and the appellate process.

The Attorney General's Office asked justices to reinstate the convictions, and the justices heard arguments in August 2008. During arguments, justices mulled who should be penalized in this case and wondered whether to establish a blanket rule for interlocutory appeals relating to Criminal Rule 4, or whether this case involves details that could be classified as an "emergency" or "congestion."

In analyzing the case, the court relied on Martin v. State, 245 Ind. 224, 228, 194 N.E. 2d 721, 723 (1963), which held neither the prosecutor nor trial judge could control the time required for appeal and most appeals would trigger a dismissal - something the legislature couldn't have intended.

"When trial court proceedings have been stayed pending resolution of the State's interlocutory appeal, the trial court loses jurisdiction to try the defendant and has no ability to speed the appellate process," Justice Theodore Boehm wrote. "As a practical matter, applying the Criminal Rule 4(C) one-year requirement to interlocutory appeals would render an appeal by the State impossible because it would in all likelihood trigger a mandatory discharge of the defendant."

However, Justice Boehm added some advice for the state to consider in these types of cases in the future. He wrote, "Although Appellate Rule 21(A) provides generally for expedited consideration of interlocutory appeals, in the future the State should alert the appellate court when it pursues an interlocutory appeal not chargeable to the defendant so the appellate court can be sensitive to the defendant's interest in avoiding delay."

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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