Split COA panel affirms day care couple’s manslaughter convictions

June 30, 2015

A couple convicted of involuntary manslaughter after a child died in their home-based Fishers day care failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that they should get new trials.

The couple alleged in separate appeals juror misconduct after a juror complained to the court that an alternate juror participated extensively in deliberations.

Saundra S. Wahl was convicted of the Class D felony, along with her husband, Daniel, and received a suspended sentence and was ordered to pay restitution to parents Danny and Jocelyne DiRenzo, whose 20-month-old child died from asphyxiation after becoming trapped in a child gate.

While the majority affirmed Saundra Wahl’s conviction and sentence and turned away her contention that she was prejudiced by juror misconduct, Judge L. Mark Bailey dissented in Saundra S. Wahl v. State of Indiana, 29A04-1409-CR-418.

“(C)umulative error denied Wahl a fair trial,” Bailey wrote. “I am convinced that the alternate juror crossed a line in his persistent effort to influence the duly selected jurors. Even more egregious, Wahl’s Involuntary Manslaughter conviction was achieved by merging regulator concepts into the definition of recklessness as set forth by our Legislature in the Criminal Code.

“In my opinion, Wahl’s conviction was not a product of constitutionally adequate proceedings and amounts to fundamental error,” Bailey wrote. He also dissented in Daniel P. Wahl v. State of Indiana,  29A02-1409-CR-625, citing to his dissent in Saundra Wahl’s appeal.

But Judge Patricia Riley, writing for the majority joined by Judge Michael Barnes, found that any error was harmless. “Here, Juror #7 advised the alternate juror to cease and desist from discussions, and we presume that the other jurors were attentive of that warning,” Riley wrote in Saundra Wahl. … On these facts, it is plain to us that, while Wahl may have met her initial burden, the State rebutted the alleged misconduct, and without more, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Wahl’s motion to correct error.”

The majority also ruled that her sentence was appropriate.

Daniel Wahl’s conviction was similarly affirmed. He also unsuccessfully challenged an order that he pay restitution of $20,237 to the DiRenzos for lost wages.




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