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COA: third-party perpetrator evidence not relevant

September 8, 2016

A man sentenced to 40 years for murder failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals he was unable to adequately defend himself at trial because he was prohibited from pointing an accusatory finger at the victim’s brother-in-law.   

Jason Tibbs was convicted of murdering Rayna Rison 15 years after her body was pulled from a pond in Lake County. Police were able to link Tibbs to the crime after two men came forward with information about him arguing with the victim on the day she was killed and being seen with her dead body.  

Tibbs appealed his conviction for murder, arguing, in part, that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding evidence of an alleged third-party perpetrator. He asserted he was not able to present a complete defense because he was prohibited from statements and testimony showing that Ray McCarty threatened Rison and misled police.

Two years before the victim was murdered, McCarty had pled guilty to molesting Rison and was sentenced to three years on probation.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in the conviction in Jason Tibbs v. State of Indiana, 46A03-1501-CR-19, finding the LaPorte Circuit Court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the third-party perpetrator evidence the defendant wanted to introduce.
 
Citing Joyner v. State, 678 N.E.2d 386 (Ind. 1997), the unanimous panel held that Tibbs failed to establish any direct, material connection between McCarty and Rison’s murder. In Joyner, the Indiana Supreme Court overturned a murder conviction after concluding the defendant has sufficiently connected the third party to the crime and that the excluded evidence could have established motive and opportunity.

Here, the Court of Appeals did not see any direct link from McCarty to Rison.

“We conclude the evidence Tibbs sought to introduce – that McCarty was indicted for Rison’s murder; that in 1989 Rison reported McCarty threatened to kill her if she disclosed he sexually molested her; that McCarty allegedly asked (Rison’s sister Lori McCarty) to clean out his car; and the details of McCarty’s conflicting statements related to his whereabouts around the time Rison disappeared – was neither sufficiently exculpatory nor relevant evidence of a third-party perpetrator,” Judge John Baker wrote for the court. “None of the of the excluded evidence made it less probable that Tibbs murdered Rison or that McCarty was responsible for her murder as required under Rule of Evidence 401.”

McCarty was indicted for Rison’s murder shortly after she was killed, but the state later dismissed the charges.
 

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