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Death penalty, election arguments Thursday

May 27, 2009

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday in a death penalty case, a dispute whether the elected mayor of Terre Haute was eligible to run for office, and whether an order for a mother's voluntary termination of parental rights should have been set aside.

At 9 a.m., the justices will hear Daniel Ray Wilkes v. State of Indiana, No. 10S00-0808-DP-453. Daniel Ray Wilkes was convicted in Clark County for the murders of an Evansville woman and her two children. The jury failed to reach a unanimous decision as to Wilkes' sentence, so Vanderburgh Circuit Judge Carl Heldt issued a death sentence.

This was the first time since Indiana law changed in 2002 that a judge had to determine the sentence in a capital murder case after a jury deadlocked. The state law amendment requires judges to follow jury sentencing recommendations in capital cases. In the direct appeal, Wilkes argued various errors occurred during his trial and sentencing.

Arguments in Kevin D. Burke v. Duke Bennett, No. 84S01-0904-CV-148, begin at 10:05 a.m. Duke Bennett was elected mayor of Terre Haute in 2007, but his opponent, Kevin Burke, contested the election because he claimed Bennett was ineligible to run for office since he worked for a nonprofit that received federal funds. Bennett was declared the winner, but the Indiana Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision reversed and held that Bennett is disqualified, the mayor's office is vacant, and a special election is required.

The high court will also hear arguments at 10:55 a.m. in a case involving the denial of a mother's motion to set aside an order for voluntary termination of her parental rights. In the case In Re: Termination of parent-child relationship of M.B. and S.B., No. 34S02-0805-JV-437, the Howard Circuit Court denied the mother's Trial 60(B) motion to set aside the order voluntarily ending her parental rights. The Court of Appeals affirmed in the matter of first impression, ruling the addendum to her consent providing for post-adoption visitation was unenforceable because a partial termination of parental rights doesn't exist under Indiana law and severing the addendum didn't frustrate the basic purpose of the remainder of the agreement.

All arguments will be webcast live from the Supreme Court courtroom.

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