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COA upholds Kentucky man’s conviction for killing Indiana teen

February 13, 2018

A Kentucky man convicted in the shooting death of an Indiana teen lost his appeal of his murder conviction after the Indiana Court of Appeals found sufficient, properly obtained evidence to support his conviction.

In Vaughn Whitt v. State of Indiana, 39A01-1612-CR-2921, Cole Wright and Tyler Williams — teenagers from Milton, Kentucky and Madison, Indiana, respectively — planned a fight in Milton over Williams’ girlfriend. Vaughn Whitt, then 32 years old, attended and brought a gun he had obtained from Bradey McCane, another teen.

Whitt told the teens the fight could not be recorded, but when the fight ended, he was informed it had been recorded and posted on Facebook. Whitt became angry because he was concerned that he would be in trouble with his wife.
 
Whitt, McCane and another teen decided to find the Madison teenagers and confront them, and when they found their foes, Whitt demanded they take the video off of Facebook, waved the gun in the air and told the Madison teens he would put them “all in a box.”  Bradey was able to take the gun away from Whitt, but the man later retrieved it from a car.

Brennan Stewart then began punching Whitt when the man started pistol whipping another teen, so Whitt turned around and shot 17-year-old Stewart in the abdomen, killing him. Whitt then returned to the vehicle and fled with the Kentucky teenagers.

Indiana police began pursuing Whitt and apprehended him across the Kentucky line, while Kentucky officers searched the vehicle and found the gun on the side of the road. Whitt moved to suppress the evidence because the Madison police lacked jurisdiction to stop him in Kentucky, but the Jefferson Circuit Court disagreed and a jury convicted him of seven felonies, including murder, and one misdemeanor.

On appeal, Whitt revived his argument that the Indiana officers lacked authority to stop him in Kentucky, so the stop violated his federal and state constitutional rights. But the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed, with Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik writing Tuesday that even if the Hoosier officers violated Kentucky law — an issue the appellate court did not reach — such an error would not implicate Fourth Amendment protections.  

“This is because while individual states may construe their own constitutions as imposing more stringent constraints on police conduct than does the federal constitution, state law cannot ‘alter the content of the Fourth Amendment,’” Vaidik wrote.

The appellate court then determined the stop was permissible under the Fourth Amendment pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968), and under Article 1 Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution pursuant to the three-factor test in Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 359 (Ind. 2005). The court found under the totality of the circumstances, the officers’ conduct was reasonable.

Finally, Vaidik said there was sufficient evidence to uphold Whitt’s murder conviction, writing that the testimony of one of the teens who witnessed the shooting was not incredibly dubious. Further, there was evidence Whitt was already enraged when he confronted the Indiana teens, she said, thus dooming his argument that the shooting was done in sudden heat.

 

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