Supreme Court upholds LWOP for execution-style murder

A southern Indiana man convicted of murder in the shooting death of a man at a power plant will spend the rest of his life in prison after the Indiana Supreme Court upheld his sentence of life without parole.

The court handed down its decision Thursday in Mathew W. McCallister v. State of Indiana, 87S00-1600-LW-497. The case began in February 2014, when Mathew McCallister lived with his girlfriend, Kelli Wyrick, in various hotels in Evansville with their friend Shawn Grigsby and his girlfriend.

One night when the couples, McCallister’s sister, Jade Stigall, David Lackey and Joseph Nelson were gathered in adjoining rooms at a local Fairfield Inn to smoke methamphetamine, Nelson made an unwanted sexual advance toward Stigall while the two were alone. When McCallister learned of the situation, he asked his friends to take Nelson to a nearby convenience store.

McCallister and Wyrick met Nelson at the convenience store and began driving with Stigall and Nelson toward a rural area in Warrick County. During the drive, McCallister told Nelson to “start making amends” with God and asked Grigsby if he had the magazine of his handgun.

McCallister then directed his sister to park the car near a remote coal mine in Warrick County, and Grigsby gave his gun to McCallister. Stigall then saw Nelson on his knees, heard a pop and saw a flash come from the gun as McCallister shot him in the back of the head.

After McCallister dropped the gun and ammunition down a sewer drain, the group returned to the hotel and later burned the clothes they had been wearing. Nelson’s body was found later that morning in a coal-conveyor chute at the local Alcoa plant, having been sent to the plant on a train car from the mine.

When hotel surveillance footage implicated Grigsby, Stigall and Lackey in the murder, Stigall confessed and took police to the drain and burn pile, while Lackey took officers to the murder site. Grigsby and Stigall then testified against McCallister at his July 2016 murder trial, where he was convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to life without parole on the murder charge.

In his direct appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, McCallister first argued his convictions were not supported by sufficient evidence. But the unanimous court disagreed, with Justice Geoffrey Slaughter writing that while there was conflicting evidence as to whether McCallister pulled the trigger, other evidence — including video surveillance and his sister’s testimony — supported the jury’s verdict.

Further, corroborating testimony from Grigsby and “a wealth of circumstantial evidence” defeated McCallister’s argument that Stigall’s testimony was incredibly dubious, Slaughter said.  And looking to the conspiracy charge, the court found “ample evidence to allow the jury to infer all three elements of a conspiracy: intent to commit a felony, agreement with another person to commit the felony, and an overt act in furtherance of the agreement.”

Slaughter then wrote the trial court did not reversibly err in the admission of evidence, including hotel surveillance footage, a jailhouse recording between McCallister and his girlfriend and communications from the participants’ cell phones. The admission of the footage did not prejudice McCallister’s substantive rights, the justice wrote, while McCallister was notified his jailhouse conversations would be monitored and there was a sufficient foundation for the admission of the mobile phone conversations.

Finally, the high court affirmed McCallister’s LWOP sentence, finding the jury was entitled to give weight to the aggravator that he was on parole at the time of the murder when deciding his sentence. Further, the pre-meditated, execution-style murder of Nelson — as well as his criminal history — meant the sentence was not inappropriate.

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