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Justices vacate life sentence

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The Indiana Supreme Court vacated a convicted murderer's sentence of life in prison without parole because the trial court judge didn't have the authority to impose the sentence after the jury failed to reach a unanimous sentencing recommendation.

Kyle Kiplinger appealed his sentence of life in prison without parole following his convictions of murder and felony murder for the rape and death of Bobbi Jo Braunecker. Kiplinger and Darrick O'Brien gave her a ride home following a party and beat her and knocked her unconscious so O'Brien could have sex with her. They killed her and left her body in a river.

The state sought life without parole based on the qualifying aggravating circumstance that Kiplinger intentionally killed Braunecker while committing or attempting to commit rape. The jury found him guilty, but was unable to reach a unanimous decision on a sentence recommendation. The jury never returned a special verdict form finding the state proved the aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt, only that the state proved that the charged aggravating circumstance outweighed any mitigating circumstances. The judge then sentenced him to life without parole.

In Kyle Kiplinger v. State of Indiana, No. 62S00-0809-CR-486, Kiplinger argued the jury never found the charged aggravating circumstance had been proven by a reasonable doubt. The state claimed that the jury determined that the state had proved the charged aggravating circumstance outweighed the mitigating circumstances on a "special verdict form," and that this sufficiently demonstrated that the jury had found an aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury in Kiplinger's trial wasn't able to reach a unanimous decision on the life sentence and its guilt phase verdicts don't necessary establish that the aggravating circumstance was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan.

"The jury found that the State had proved the charged aggravating circumstance out-weighed the mitigating circumstances. We acknowledge that it would be permissible to infer that the jury unanimously found the existence of the charged aggravating circumstance from this finding," he wrote. "We are unable, however, to infer that the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that the State had proved the aggravating circumstance."

When a jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision as to the existence of an aggravating circumstance and the Sixth Amendment prohibits the trial judge from imposing a sentence of life without possibility of parole under Indiana Code Section 35-50-2-9(f), a new penalty phase trial is required.

The justices remanded for re-sentencing. If the state dismisses its request for the life sentence, then Kiplinger should be re-sentenced to a term of years. If not, then the trial court shall convene a new penalty phase jury.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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