Justices acquit two involved in fistfight turned fatal

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An Indianapolis teen and another man convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for their roles in a planned beatdown that ended with a fatal gunshot will be freed after the Indiana Supreme Court reversed their convictions and ordered them acquitted.

Billy Young and Marquise Lee were convicted in a bench trial by Marion Superior Judge Grant Hawkins of attempted aggravated battery for attacking Ramon Gude at his Indianapolis apartment in 2012. Young and Lee were accompanied by 16-year-old Lee’s mother, Latoya Lee, who Gude had punched in the face two days earlier, and an unidentified third man, who apparently fired the fatal shot.

Young and Marquise Lee initially were charged with murder and conspiracy, but Hawkins dismissed those charges, finding reasonable doubt about whether the shooting had been planned. He subsequently convicted the two men of attempted aggravated battery as a lesser included offense, which the justices unanimously ruled was fundamental error.

“(F)air notice was lacking. Defendants were charged with murder as accomplices in a shooting. At their bench trial, the court found that they intended a group beating of the victim, but that there was insufficient evidence that they knew a member of their group would shoot him. The trial court thus dismissed the murder charge, but convicted Defendants instead of attempted aggravated battery for planning the beating,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote for the court.

“Under these circumstances, however, attempted aggravated battery by beating was not just a lesser offense than the charged murder by shooting — it was a completely different offense, based on a completely different “means used” than alleged in the charging informations. This deprived Defendants of fair notice to extend their defense to that very different lesser charge and constituted fundamental error. We therefore grant transfer in both cases by separate orders and reverse both Defendants’ convictions.”

Different Court of Appeals panels had reached contradictory opinions for the defendants, affirming Lee’s conviction and reversing Young’s.

“Defendants must have “fair notice” of the charges of which they may be convicted, including inherently or factually included lesser offenses,” Rush wrote. “But under the unusual operative and procedural facts of this case — the actual shooter remaining unidentified, the resulting ambiguity as to whether these Defendants intended to carry out a shooting, the State’s choice to rely on the shooting alone in the charging instruments and at trial, and the trial court’s unambiguous finding of reasonable doubt on that particular theory — we  hold Defendants  lacked  fair  notice  of the charge of which  they were ultimately convicted. … We therefore grant transfer, reverse both Defendants’ convictions, and remand to the trial court with instructions to enter judgments of acquittal in both cases.”

In a footnote, the court observed, “Latoya Lee did not seek transfer in her unsuccessful appeal of her conviction and sentence.”

The cases are Billy Young v. State of Indiana, 49S02-1505-CR-275, and Marquise Lee v. State of Indiana, 49S02-1505-CR-276.

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