Killer’s murder, arson convictions affirmed on appeal

A Vigo County man convicted of killing a woman and then setting fires in an attempt to cover up the evidence lost his bid to have some of his convictions overturned Tuesday.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Larry P. Prouse III’s convictions of murder, Level 4 felony arson and Level 6 felony abuse of a corpse and altering the scene of a death in the killing of Ashley McMickle.

Prouse and McMickle had gone to his mother and stepfather’s house in Terre Haute to hang out and use methamphetamine the night of August 20, 2016. The next morning, Prouse stabbed McMickle in the neck as she slept, but she woke and tried to fight him off until he overpowered her and continued stabbing her until she died. Prouse then dragged her body outside to a patio and told his mother and stepfather to leave. They walked to Prouse’s grandmother’s house.

A short time later, a man told Prouse’s mother and stepfather that their house was on fire, and they returned to the scene, but not before firefighters had responded. Investigators determined two fires had been intentionally set. Prouse was charged a few days later, and a jury found him guilty as charged and imposed a 70-year sentence.

In his appeal, Prouse challenged as fundamental error a deputy fire marshal’s testimony in which he said, “in my experience, the only time you do something like this is to cover up something.” He also contended his convictions for arson and altering the scene violated his double-jeopardy protection.

The COA rejected his arguments Tuesday in Larry P. Prouse, III v. State of Indiana, 84A04-1710-CR-2270.   The panel found different evidentiary facts were needed to establish the elements of each crime for which Prouse was convicted, and the trial court met the burden.

Regarding the fire marshal’s testimony, the court found any error did not rise to fundamental error because independent evidence overwhelmingly suggested the fires were set to cover up McMickle’s stabbing death. 

“The primary focus of the State’s case, as well as the defense, was who committed the crimes – not why the fires were set,” Judge Robert Altice wrote for the panel. “Further, we observe that Prouse makes no attempt on appeal to show that a fair trial was impossible. … The extremely narrow fundamental error exception demands more than showing only that a violation of our evidentiary rules occurred. On the record before us, we cannot say that Deputy Fire Marshall Holbert’s passing testimony indicating that whoever set the house fire did so to cover up something rendered a fair trial impossible.”

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