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Supreme Court: Evidence sufficient for murder convictions

March 17, 2016

The Indiana Supreme Court upheld a man’s convictions of four counts of murder and four life sentences without parole after it found evidence was sufficient to justify his convictions. The case went straight from trial court to the Supreme Court because of the life without parole sentences.

Samuel E. Sallee was convicted of four counts of murder after Katheryn Burton, Tommy Smith, Shawn Burton and Aaron Cross were found dead at Katheryn Burton’s home on May 11, 2013. Sallee tried to sell or trade his .22 caliber rifle for meth Tommy Smith had, but Tommy Smith refused, according to the court record.

The day after the murder, Sallee went to Malcom England’s house where he was staying and washed his clothes, shoes and a pair of gloves. He also bought over $100 of paint tools and other items, paying in cash and then prepared to paint his truck.

Sallee was arrested later on an unrelated warrant in Brown County. He was asked about the murders and Sallee said he was at the home, but when he left everyone was alive. He then placed a call from the jail asking a friend to sell some things he had in England’s garage.

The police executed a search warrant on England’s home and found the .22 caliber rifle, Katheryn Burton’s jewelry and her son’s Taco Bell service pins, which Sallee had taken from the house. Later, England found a wooden stash box, Led Zeppelin CDs, a Zelda bag, a crossbow and a compound bow that had also been taken from the house.

Sallee also bragged to another inmate when he was transferred from Brown County to Marion County to be held on federal weapons charges, saying he did it and he’d never be caught because he didn’t leave any evidence.

Sallee had a number of reasons why the evidence would not be sufficient to convict him of the murders. First, he said there was no DNA evidence or fingerprints linking him to the crime. However, DNA evidence is not needed for a conviction, Justice Steven David said in the unanimous decision, and the circumstantial evidence was more than enough to convict him.

David also said Sallee would have motive to commit the crimes, even though Sallee argued otherwise. The state does not have to prove motive, but there was sufficient motive because Sallee did not have money or drugs beforehand and did afterwards.

Sallee also said testimony about the murder did not fit with the rest of the information. A neighbor where the shooting happened said he heard pops at about 8:30 p.m., but Sallee had left by 7:45 p.m. However, the witness admitted he was drunk and had fallen asleep, and his timeline of events might be faulty. Also, he said it’s not uncommon to hear out-of-season fireworks.

Sallee also said he “adamantly declared” his innocence and only the testimony of the inmate he bragged to connected him to the murders, and that inmate had a reason to testify against him. However, the inmate got nothing in return for his cooperation, and Sallee did not raise any issues against the inmate at trial.

Sallee also argued the state firearms expert could not say with 100 percent certainty the gun used by Sallee to fire shots in Brown County was the same one used in the murder, but there does not have to be 100 percent evidence to convict.

Finally, Sallee argued the state’s case is mere speculation and suspicion because there are other possibilities to explain the evidence. However, the other theories Sallee presented do not mesh with the evidence, and the trial jury concluded Sallee was guilty.

The case is Samuel E. Sallee v. State of Indiana, 03S00-1504-LW-00237.
 

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