COA orders new attempted murder trial

The Indiana Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial in a Greene County attempted murder case after finding the trial court incorrectly applied the standard of a “knowing” mens rea, rather than a “specific intent to kill.”

In August 2014, Jeremy Kohn and Kylee Bateman were sitting on the front porch of Kohn’s house laughing at a story when they saw Michael Miller and waved at him. Miller believed the couple was laughing at him, so he approached Kohn and cut his throat with a pocketknife.

Kohn recovered with 40 stitches. Miller was arrested the next day, told officers that he knew why he was being arrested and conducted a police interview after waiving his Miranda rights.

When asked during the police interview if he wanted to kill Kohn, Miller said he did not care. The state charged Miller with one count of Level 1 felony attempted murder and one count of Level 5 felony aggravated battery.

Miller’s attorney filed a notice of defense of mental disease or defect, and a court-appointed psychologist reported to the Greene Circuit Court that he believed Miller suffered from “Delusional Disorder, Paranoid Type” and further testified there was reason to doubt his sanity at the time of the crime and his competency to stand trial.

The trial court ultimately found Miller incompetent to stand trial and committed him to the Division of Mental Health Addictions. After treatment for schizophrenia, the hospital certified that Miller was competent to stand trial.

Miller then moved for a speedy trial, and the state filed a motion to compel him to submit to a psychiatrist’s examination. After the court granted the motion, the state then moved to continue to give the psychiatrist additional time for his review. Miller objected to the continuance, but the trial court overruled and re-scheduled the trial for January 2016, outside of the original 70-day speedy trial window.

After a bench trial, the Greene Circuit Court entered findings discrediting Miller’s expert witnesses and rejected his defense of mental disease or defect. The court then found that Miller, beyond a reasonable doubt, “did knowingly or intentionally attempt to commit the crime of Murder, to-wit: to knowingly kill Jeremy Kohn… .” Miller was conviction of Level 1 felony attempted murder and sentenced to 30 years, with 20 executed and 10 suspended to probation.

On appeal in Michael Miller v. State of Indiana, 28A04-1603-CR-634, Miller first argued that his rights under Indiana Criminal Rule 4(B) were violated when his trial was not held within the 70-day window. However, Judge Michael Barnes, writing for the Indiana Court of Appeals, said Friday that under Criminal Rule 4(D), the trial court was within its discretion to grant the continuance to give a psychiatrist more time to examine Miller.

The appellate panel also affirmed the trial court’s decision to reject Miller’s insanity defense, noting that one of the psychiatrists who testified on his behalf said that Miller was aware of the wrongfulness of his actions but could not resist the impulse to cut Kohn’s throat, a contradiction to other expert testimony that said he was not aware that his actions were wrong. Additionally, evidence of Miller’s demeanor during and after the attack supports the testimony that he understood the wrongfulness of the attack, Barnes said.

However, the appellate panel rejected the “knowing” mens rea used to convict Miller, specifically the trial court’s finding that he knowingly attempted to kill Kohn, the same language included in the charging information against him.

“Both the charging information and the trial court’s findings refer to the long-discredited notion that a ‘knowing’ mens rea was sufficient to convict Miller of attempted murder. It was not,” Barnes wrote. “Moreover, Miller’s intent was a central issue in this case.”

The case was, thus, remanded for a new trial applying the “specific intent to kill” mens rea, rather than a “knowing” mens rea.  

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