Justices acquit mother involved in fistfight turned fatal

November 5, 2015

The Indiana Supreme Court acquitted the woman involved in a planned beatdown that resulted in one man dying and she, her son and another man being convicted of attempted aggravated battery. The justices previously this year ordered the other two perpetrators’ convictions reversed and said the “basic principle of justice” requires the same result in the woman’s case.

Latoya Lee, her 16-year-old son, Marquise Lee; her 23-year-old cousin, Billy Young, and another unidentified man when to the apartment of Ramon Gude to beat up him in retaliation for striking Latoya Lee in her face during a previous argument. During the melee, the unidentified male shot and killed Gude. Lee, her son and Young all were charged with murder, based on the shooting, and conspiracy to commit murder. They moved for involuntary dismissal for failure of proof, which the trial court granted. But the judge, without objection, invited arguments on the lesser include battery offenses based on a plan to beat up Gude. He then convicted the three of that charge and sentenced each to 15 years.

All appealed, and the Lees’ convictions were upheld; Young’s panel reversed on grounds he lacked fair notice of the attempted aggravated battery charge and the error was fundamental. The Lees then petitioned for rehearing, which was denied, and Latoya Lee did not pursue her appeal further. But after the Supreme Court reversed the other two’s convictions, she filed a belated appeal, which the justices took Thursday.

“Here, Latoya faces opposite results than her son and Young on the very same issue originating from the very same trial. She now stands convicted while the others stand acquitted, despite being identical in every way except their procedural postures. Even more significantly, Latoya stands convicted and Marquise acquitted, despite being identical in every way, including their procedural posture on the included-offense issue. To avoid that serious injustice, we therefore choose to address Latoya’s case on its merits and reverse her conviction, consistent with our decision in Young,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote in Latoya Lee v. State of Indiana, 49S02-1511-CR-638.

Charging murder by shooting does not, without more, give fair notice of lesser included charges based on a beating, the court wrote. The justices also found it was fundamental error to convict Lee, like her co-defendants, based on a critical operative fact the state never pleaded and in fact disclaimed at trial. The murder charge was based on the shooting, so the defense was also based on the charged shooting.

The case is remanded with instructions to acquit Lee.


Recent Articles by Jennifer Nelson