COA: Admitted evidence of prior threats reveals motive for attempted murder

After a man argued that prior threats he made against a man he repeatedly shot at two months later should not have been admitted as evidence, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that even if the admission of the threats was error, it would have been harmless.

As Tranitra Tipton dropped off her two children at daycare in November 2016, her ex-husband and the children’s father, Jermaine Jackson, was waiting for them there. When Jackson saw that one of his children’s hair had been cut, he inquired who cut it. Upon learning that it was Tipton’s boyfriend, Troy Pollard, who had cut the child’s hair, Jackson “got angry,” yelled at Tipton, threatened to beat her up and threatened to “kill [Pollard] if he touch[ed J.J.’s] hair again.”

Later that afternoon, when Tipton and Pollard returned to the daycare center to pick up the children, Jackson was there and confronted Pollard. Jackson began threatening him and said, “N****, I [will] kill you,” prompting Tipton to call the police.

Then in January 2017, Tipton, Pollard and the children arrived home after an evening out and were about to exit their minivan when Pollard saw a man running towards him, who he recognized as Jackson. When Jackson reached the minivan, he fired a semi-automatic handgun at Pollard four or five times, striking him twice in his chest and once in his back, near his spine.

During the investigation, Indianapolis police discovered Jackson’s cellphone had “pinged” two towers near the scene right before and after the incident. Both Pollard and Tipton also identified Jackson as the shooter.  

Prior to Jackson’s subsequent trial, the state filed a notice of intent to introduce evidence of Jackson’s threats toward Pollard and Tipton in November 2016 pursuant to Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b). The state allowed the admission over Jackson’s objection, and he was convicted of attempted murder, carrying a handgun without a license and three counts of criminal recklessness.

On appeal, Jackson argued the Marion Superior Court abused its discretion when it admitted the evidence of threats he had made to Pollard and Tipton in November 2016. However, the appellate court disagreed with Jackson’s argument that “the challenged evidence is not sufficiently probative of the two men’s relationship to justify its admission, and it unfairly suggested Jackson had a propensity to kill.”

Instead, the appellate court found that Jackson’s explicit threats to kill Pollard over something “as trivial as a child’s haircut” was probative of his motive to shoot Pollard and that the probative value of that evidence outweighed any prejudice to Jackson.

Further, the appellate court found that even if the trial court had committed error in admitting the evidence, the error would have been harmless. It concluded that Jackson could not show that the admission of the evidence regarding the November 2016 threats prejudiced his substantial rights.

The case is Jermaine Jackson v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1712-CR-2899.

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