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Woman loses bid for new trial, appeals

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Indiana Lawyer Rehearing

A Greensburg woman – who said she was wrongfully convicted 14 years ago of an arson that killed her son – has lost her latest bid for a new trial and is now taking her case to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

After months of review following a hearing in October, Decatur Circuit Judge John Westhafer issued a 47-page ruling earlier this summer that denied Kristine Bunch’s request for post-conviction relief. She was convicted in 1996 of arson and murder for setting the trailer-home fire the year before that resulted in the death of her 3-year-old son. She was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

In his June 8 decision, Judge Westhafer wrote that he didn’t feel the defense produced sufficient evidence to warrant a retrial. He noted that Bunch’s lawyers had not introduced or presented any new factual evidence or physical evidence discovered since the original 1996 trial, but rather only opinion evidence. One of his main reasons for denial was that the lawyers presented four experts about how a new trial would turn out, but those individuals cited the same “undetermined” cause as the defense’s original trial expert.

“While (Bunch) had new resources available to her at the post-conviction hearing, new experts do not create new evidence,” the judge wrote. “The issues raised and the conclusions reached – while packaged differently ­– remain basically the same as they were at trial in 1996.”

Judge Westhafer also discussed the investigation quality, existence of kerosene in the floor samples with ‘innocent’ explanations, and a potential electrical cause were all presented at the original trial and in subsequent appeals. He also referred to Bunch’s own trial comments that appear contradictory and create “a significant inference of guilt.”

Bunch’s legal team – Indianapolis attorney Hilary Bowe Ricks and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law – filed an appeal July 8 and briefs are being filed in the coming months. That appeal is Kristine Bunch v. State of Indiana, No. 16A05-1007-PC-00439.
 

Rehearing to "Aiming for exoneration" IL Sept. 2-15, 2009

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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