A Vanderburgh County man convicted of beating his girlfriend to death has lost his bid for post-conviction relief from the Indiana Court of Appeals, which found he did not receive ineffective assistance of trial counsel.
After Racxon Cruze McDowell called 911 to report that his girlfriend, Rachel Lomax, was unresponsive, he told the responding paramedics that he and Lomax had been drinking the night before and that she had taken six sleeping pills before going to bed. The paramedic, however, noticed multiple injuries on Lomax’s body, while Evansville Police noticed scratches on McDowell’s face.
In a subsequent search of the scene where Lomax was pronounced dead, a shoe print was found on Lomax’s shirt that matched McDowell’s shoe, while some of her clothes were ripped and her blood was found on the bathroom door. Forensic tests also found McDowell’s skin under Lomax’s fingernails.
McDowell was then taken to the local jail, where he told multiple officers that he killed Lomax. However, he denied involvement in her death in subsequent interviews and instead claimed that she had been assaulted. When confronted with inaccuracies in his story, McDowell admitted he was lying and admitted to attacking Lomax in a letter to her parents.
An autopsy showed Lomax suffered numerous “horrifying” injuries across her body, including a nearly-severed liver that was identified as the main cause of death. McDowell was charged with her murder, but his defense counsel urged the jury to find him guilty of involuntary manslaughter after admitting that he had gotten into a physical fight with Lomax.
McDowell testified on his behalf that he did not intend to kill Lomax, and his counsel focused on that point during closing argument. But the jury found him guilty as charged, and the trial court sentenced him to 65 years.
McDowell’s sentence was affirmed on direct appeal, and his subsequent petition for post-conviction relief was denied in September 2017. McDowell argued in his PCR petition that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel, but the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected that argument Wednesday in Racxon Cruze McDowell v. State of Indiana, 82A01-1710-PC-2469.
Specifically, the panel rejected McDowell’s argument that his counsel should have sought a reckless homicide instruction. Noting the “brutal” nature of Lomax’s injuries, Judge Paul Mathias said no reasonable person would have found those injuries were inflicted only recklessly and not knowingly.
“Although his trial counsel was mistaken with regard to the availability of the lesser-included offense of involuntary manslaughter, he did not err by failing to request an instruction on reckless homicide,” Mathias wrote.
The court also rejected McDowell’s argument that his counsel should have objected to the court’s voluntary manslaughter instruction, finding no misstatement of the law regarding the element of sudden heat. And though the instruction did misstate the law when it told the jury to consider the elements of voluntary manslaughter only if the state failed to prove the elements of murder, the jury instructions as a whole properly informed the jury of its duty, Mathias said.