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Justices uphold death sentence

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The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld the sentence for a man sentenced to die for the 2001 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in southern Indiana.

A unanimous 21-page decision came today in Roy Lee Ward v. State, No. 74S00-0707-DP-263, affirming a sentence imposed after the defendant's second trial held before Spencer Circuit Special Judge Robert Pigman.

Ward was convicted for the rape and murder of Stacy Payne in Spencer County in July 2001. He'd pretended to be searching for a lost dog, and convinced the teenager to let him inside her house where raped her on the kitchen floor and then fatally slashed her body and throat with a knife.

The first trial resulted in guilty verdicts for murder, rape, and criminal deviate conduct and a jury recommended the death penalty, but those convictions and the sentence were reversed in 2004 because of pre-trial publicity. On remand, the parties agreed to bring in a jury from Clay County with a special judge holding the trial in his Vanderburgh County courtroom. The defendant pleaded guilty to murder and rape charges and the jury and judge issued a death penalty again.

Ward appealed on arguments that the Indiana death penalty statute is unconstitutional, that the jury wasn't property selected, that evidence from a warrantless search and photo evidence shouldn't have been admitted, and that the death sentence wasn't appropriate.

But justices rejected all of Ward's appellate arguments, including the photo evidence claim on grounds that the photos were gruesome but relevant to the case. Ward's attorneys had also argued that the 120 prospective jurors should have been questioned individually, outside the presence of other potential jurors, so that no one's answers would be overheard or influence another. Attorneys said jurors were ultimately lumped into groups of 10 or 20 and questioned, and they prevented Ward from getting a fair second trial.

"A trial court has broad discretionary power to regulate the form and substance of voir dire," Justice Brent E. Dickson wrote for the court. "Individually sequestered voir dire is not mandated in any case under Indiana law, including capital cases, absent highly unusual or potentially damaging circumstances. ... The defendant has not established reversible error in the trial court's modification of the format for questioning potential jurors in this case."

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard concurred in the decision to affirm, adding that he continues to believe that "there is less justification for appellate alteration of sentence than there was when judges (rather than juries) were the final deciders of sentence."

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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