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COA upholds intimidation conviction of man participating in fake robbery

February 12, 2015

A staged robbery between two friends to cover up stolen funds from an employer took an unexpected turn when a good Samaritan tried to catch the supposed robber. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s intimidation conviction for pulling a knife on the good Samaritan during a chase.

Jeremy Fitzgerald agreed to help stage a fake robbery with his friend, Melanie Jones, in order to help cover up the fact that Jones and her boyfriend had been stealing money from their employer. Matthew Bingham saw what he believed to be a robbery of Jones in a CVS parking lot and chased after Fitzgerald. Bingham caught up to Fitzgerald and cornered him in a parking lot. Fitzgerald pulled a knife out of his pocket and told Bingham to “get the f*** away from me” and “it’s not what you think.” Bingham backed up, and police arrived and arrested Fitzgerald.

A robbery charge was dropped after police investigated the incident, but Fitzgerald was convicted of Class C felony intimidation.

In Jeremy Fitzgerald v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1407-CR-507, Fitzgerald argued that the detainment of him by Bingham did not amount to a lawful “citizen’s arrest” so he was entitled to employ reasonable force to defend himself. He also argued that the state didn’t disprove his self-defense claim.

The judges agreed with Fitzgerald regarding the citizen’s arrest, finding Bingham chased him on the mistaken belief that Fitzgerald had robbed Jones. Based on long-standing precedent, the citizen’s arrest was unlawful because no robbery had been committed, Judge Cale Bradford wrote.

But the state sufficiently disproved Fitzgerald’s self-defense claim. While he had the right to be in the public parking lot where Bingham cornered him, he was not without fault. Fitzgerald acknowledged from Bingham’s perspective, it appeared that he had robbed Jones. And the record doesn’t support he acted out of reasonable fear or apprehension of bodily harm. Bingham always remained five or six feet behind Fitzgerald and backed up once Fitzgerald pulled out the knife.

“Although Fitzgerald testified that he ‘pulled the knife’ because he was afraid of Bingham and had no intention of cutting or stabbing Bingham, the trial court was not obligated to believe Fitzgerald’s self-serving testimony,” Bradford wrote.

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