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Life sentence upheld for man who killed neighbor

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The Indiana Supreme Court rejected a man’s claims that certain photos of a murder victim should not have been admitted at his trial. The justices upheld Tyrice Halliburton’s life without parole sentence for the murder of Sheena Kiska.

Police found Kiska dead in her apartment in March 2008. She had been stabbed multiple times and also suffered blunt-force injuries. Halliburton became a suspect after he told police he saw another resident murder Kiska, providing details that would have been impossible from his vantage point. Police also found Kiska’s DVD player in his car that had been taken from her apartment a month before the murder. His girlfriend, Nicole DeFronozo, also revealed that she knew in 2008 that Halliburnton had killed Kiska but remained quiet for more than three years.

The state sought life without parole after alleging Halliburton intentionally killed Kiska while committing or attempting to commit burglary. He was convicted in 2012.

Halliburton appealed, arguing the trial court erred in admitting certain photographs and the testimony of his girlfriend’s mother, and that the trial court’s limiting instruction was erroneous.

Halliburton only objected to the admission of a few of the 27 pre- and post-autopsy photos; his remaining claims on appeal are based on fundamental error. The justices rejected his claims finding the photos did not serve to inflame the emotions of the jury but showed her injuries or how her body was found.

They also found no fundamental error in the introduction of testimony from Cynthia Bollenbaugh, DeFronzo’s mother. She testified that she urged her daughter to tell the truth when she learned of Halliburton’s involvement in the murder. She was not testifying as to whether DeFronzo had testified truthfully, as he claimed, so there was no violation of Ind. Evid. Rule 704(b).  

The justices did agree that the limiting instruction given by the judge regarding DeFronzo’s testimony was given in error.

“Here the instruction did not imply that the trial court had formed an opinion on the credibility of a witness or the weight the jury was to give the witness’ testimony. However, the instruction nonetheless advised the jury that the trial court had made a preliminary determination that the testimony the jury was about to hear is ‘relevant’ and that the trial court had made a preliminary determination that the probative value of such testimony ‘outweighs any prejudice there may be.’ Although appropriate as an evidentiary ruling, the highlighted portion of the limiting instruction should not have been read to the jury in that it had no role in the matter,” Rucker wrote in Tyrice J. Halliburton v. State of Indiana, 20S00-1206-LW-560.

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