Teen’s felony murder conviction upheld

An man’s felony murder conviction in Elkhart County will stand after the Indiana Court of Appeals held Thursday there was sufficient evidence to support it and that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury.

In Keenan J.P. Mardis v. State of Indiana, 20A05-1610-CR-2327, Keenan Mardis, then 16 years old, was witness to a fight between Ontario Brown and Zirei Jackson. When Brown refused to give up a designer belt he was wearing that was worth about $300, Mardis shot him in the head, killing him.

Mardis, from Chicago, was found guilty of felony murder and was sentence to 58 years in the Indiana Department of Correction. On appeal, Mardis argued that the state failed to prove he was the person who shot and killed Brown.

The Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed with that argument Thursday, with Judge Edward Najam writing that Lenell Williams, another individual present during the altercation, testified Mardis was the one who pulled the trigger and further testified Mardis had told Jackson to take Brown’s belt before demanding it at gunpoint himself.

Mardis also argued the Elkhart Circuit Court committed fundamental error when it instructed the jury on the presumption of innocence by failing to inform the jury that it was “’required to maintain that presumption throughout the course of the trial’” under McCowan v. State, 27 N.E.3d 760, 763-64 (Ind. 2015).

But McCowan holds that a defendant is entitled to request that the court instruct the jury to continue the presumption of innocence throughout the trial, Najam wrote, and Mardis made no such request.  Thus, his conviction was affirmed.

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