Trial court must reconsider convicted murderer’s PCR petition

A convicted murderer facing life without parole in Franklin County is getting a second chance at post-conviction relief after the Indiana Court of Appeals found Tuesday the trial court did not consider all the post-conviction claims properly before it.

In David Earl Ison v. State of Indiana, 24A04-1607-PC-1618, David Ison already had 20 prior felony convictions when he was charged with five counts of murder in 2011 in Franklin County. Melvin Wilhelm, the Franklin County prosecutor, considered seeking the death penalty against Ison, but Ison ultimately signed a document agreeing to life without parole, though the document was never filed with the court.

During a guilty plea hearing, the court asked Ison multiple times if he had been coerced into pleading guilty to the murder charges. Ison said he understood his plea and had not been forced into making it, though he did not expressly waive his rights under Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 242 (1969).

After receiving the LWOP sentence, Ison filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief in June 2014, then moved in October 2015 to amend his petition and allege for the first time that his trial counsel was ineffective and that his plea was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary. The post-conviction court denied his petition, considering only the grounds for relief raised in Ison’s original 2014 petition.

Ison brought several claims on appeal, but Judge Robert Altice wrote that the Indiana Court of Appeals did not consider those arguments on their merits on appeal because the trial court did not reach those issues. However, the appellate panel did find that the 2015 amendment to Ison’s PCR petition was properly before the trial court under Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 1(4)(c).

Thus, the trial court’s conclusion that the only petition properly before it was the 2014 petition was erroneous, Altice said, so Ison’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and involuntariness should have been considered. The appellate panel remanded the case with instructions to the trial court to make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect to those two claims.

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