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Appellate court upholds conviction in killing of man’s girlfriend, unborn baby

March 19, 2018

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a murder conviction against a man who killed his girlfriend and unborn child, finding the warrantless search of his girlfriend’s apartment did not violate his state or federal constitutional rights.

In June 2011, Cynthia Funches, who was pregnant, called off from work because she had begun bleeding and needed to go to the hospital to check on the baby. Meanwhile, one of Funches’ neighbors, saw her boyfriend and the baby’s father, Isiah Barker, walking down a set of stairs at 11 p.m., carrying a bin and driving away in a vehicle with two mattresses on top.

The next day — on the request of Funches’ sister, who had not heard from Funches — two apartment workers entered her unit and found it in “complete disarray,” prompting them to call Highland Police. Officers entered the unit, noticed the smell of bleach and found blood on a rolled-up piece of carpet.

Meanwhile, Chicago police were dispatched to an abandoned home, where they found a body stuffed into a plastic container. The body was identified as Funches, who had died from stab wounds and blunt force trauma. The baby was also found dead of asphyxiation.

Several of Barker’s personal papers were recovered at the apartment, prompting Highland Police to issue a warrant for his arrest.  Police also located the car he had been driving and found it filled with a bucket, a jug of Liquid Fire and sulfuric acid, which Barker was seen on video surveillance purchasing from nearby stores, along with the container holding Funches’ body.

Barker was officially charged with murder and feticide nearly five months after the bodies were found, and he was later arrested after attempting to flee during a traffic stop. During the ensuing trial, Barker filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from the apartment, but the Lake Superior Court denied the motion on the grounds that he did not have standing to contest the search because he did not live in the apartment full-time.

After being found guilty as charged and receiving an 83-year sentence, Barker appealed in Isiah L. Barker v. State of Indiana, 45A03-1701-CR-123, once again challenging the admission of evidence based on the warrantless search of the apartment. The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, found the search was reasonable and upheld Barker’s convictions on Monday.

Judge Elaine Brown, writing for the unanimous appellate panel, first found that Barker could contest the search because he did not demonstrate a reasonable objective expectation of privacy in the apartment. To support that conclusion, Brown pointed to evidence that Barker officially lived at a Chicago address and that only Funches’ name was listed on the lease.

Even if he could demonstrate a privacy interest, Brown said the officers’ search of the apartment was reasonable under both the Fourth Amendment and under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Looking first to the Fourth Amendment, the judge said the evidence of Barker being seen at the complex on the day in question, the call for a welfare check and the blood found on the carpet created exigent circumstances justifying the warrantless search.

Similarly, under the three-part test in Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 361 (Ind. 2005), the court found the search was reasonable under Article 1, Section 11 considering the high degree of suspicion and strong law enforcement needs, coupled with the low degree of intrusion.

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