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Previous testimony allowed in murder trial

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A witness’s testimony from a man’s murder trial and the deposition testimony of another unavailable witness were correctly allowed at the man’s second murder trial, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Tuesday.

In Nathan S. Berkman v. State of Indiana, 45A04-1111-CR-583, Nathan Berkman appealed his conviction and sentence for felony murder, raising four issues including whether the trial court abused its discretion: in denying his motion to dismiss, which was made on the basis that the instant charge was barred by double jeopardy prohibitions; in denying his mistrial motion, which was made on the basis that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting certain testimony from his first trial; and in admitting certain deposition testimony. Berkman also appealed his 60-year executed sentence.

Berkman slit the throat of Olen Hawkins in his car and stole drugs and money from Hawkins. He drove Hawkins’ car home with the body in it and eventually disposed of the body a few days later by setting the car on fire.

He was charged with murder and felony murder. He was acquitted of the murder charge. The jury didn’t reach a verdict on the felony murder count. At his second trial for felony murder, his girlfriend, Arlene Timmerman, told the judge while on the stand she might be having a migraine and didn’t feel well. The judge declared her unavailable to testify and admitted her testimony from the first trial. The judge also allowed the deposition testimony of Paul Barraza into evidence. Barraza was also considered unavailable as the state tried to locate him but was unsuccessful. He was believed to be in Florida avoiding an open arrest warrant in Lake County.

The Court of Appeals ruled the state was not barred by collateral estoppel from trying Berkman again for felony murder. The admission of Timmerman’s previous testimony was not an abuse of discretion as the trial court correctly found she was unavailable, the judges held. The trial judge was able to observe Timmerman’s behavior and knew she had been previously hospitalized. Berkman was able to cross-examine her during Timmerman’s prior testimony, so his right to confront the witness was not violated, Judge Cale Bradford wrote.

The trial court also did not abuse its discretion in admitting Barraza’s deposition testimony, the court held. The state made a reasonable, good-faith effort to secure Barraza’s presence at trial, but he had apparently fled to avoid an arrest warrant, Bradford continued. Efforts to reach him at his previous address and phone number did not pan out.  

Berkman’s confrontation rights were not violated by admitting the deposition testimony as he had the opportunity to ask Barraza questions to undermine his testimony or any other questions he wanted answered. The appellate court also declined to adopt the Florida rule that the use of discovery depositions during a criminal trial does not satisfy constitutional confrontation requirements.

The judges also found Berkman’s sentence to be appropriate given the nature of the offense and his character.  

 

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  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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