A man with a history of mental illness was unable to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that his 100-year sentence for his role in the murder of two market employees in Elkhart is inappropriate.
Richard C. Gross claimed the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty pleas to two counts of murder and in imposing 50-year sentences on each count of murder, to be served consecutively.
Gross and Kevin Moore went to Saleh’s Market in September 2013 to rob it, but Moore entered to store and shot Jagtar Singh Bhatti and Pawan Singh, both who died as a result of their injuries.
Gross decided to plead guilty to two counts of murder and indicated to the court that he understood his potential sentence, that he was waiving his right to a jury trial and that he was satisfied with the advice of his counsel.
But three months later, he filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea, in part because of his mental health issues. Gross has been treated for bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia and has depression. He said his mental health made it difficult for him to understand the charges and he was misled by his attorney. He believed he would be sentenced concurrently, he claimed. The trial court denied his motion.
He was then sentenced to 50 years on each count to be served consecutively.
In Richard C. Gross v. State of Indiana, 20A05-1406-CR-293, the appeals court found that Gross did not overcome the presumption of validity accorded with the lower court’s denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. Gross told the court he was satisfied with the advice of his counsel, his mental health conditions would not affect his ability to understand the proceedings, and he made the decision to plead freely and voluntarily, Judge Elaine Brown wrote.
The trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering the sentences to be served consecutively because it found at least one aggravating circumstance – multiple murder victims. The court did take into account Gross’ mental illnesses in that it sentenced him to less than the advisory sentence for murder. The judges also found the sentence to not be inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and Gross’ character.