Man loses appeal of murder conviction in slaying of openly gay veteran

A northern Indiana man convicted of beating a gay Afghanistan war veteran to death lost his appeal of his conviction and sentence Monday when the Indiana Court of Appeals found that a delay in the production of cellphone records did not prevent the man from receiving a fair trial.

In June 2017, Jabreeh Davis-Martin was convicted of the murder of family friend Jodie Henderson, who was a war veteran and an openly gay man. While drinking with Davis-Martin’s mother at the home she shared with Davis-Martin, Henderson informed her that he had romantic feelings for her son.

The next morning, police responded to a call of an unresponsive man lying in the street across from Davis-Martin’s home. Upon arrival, the officers found Henderson lying face down in the street across from house, dead. Henderson was determined to have died from “blunt and chop injuries,” while several pieces of evidence were found in and around the house.

Davis-Martin was eventually charged with Henderson’s murder, and while incarcerated he confessed to his cellmate that he and Henderson had been in a relationship that was “going well until Jodie wanted to tell people about their relationship.” After Davis-Martin’s mother inquired him about the relationship, Davis-Martin confronted Henderson, hitting him with a gun. He said he planned to hit Jodie “only a few times,” but “he couldn’t stop himself” and beat him up “until he couldn’t move no more.” Then, while returning home from a party that same evening with two other individuals, Davis-Martin used a cellphone to call his mother and told her to get rid of a coat and clean blood off the porch.

A jury eventually found Davis-Martin guilty, and a judge sentenced him to the maximum 65 years. But not until after sentencing did the state turned over Davis-Martin’s cellphone records to the defense, prompting the defendant to file a motion to correct error on the grounds that the withheld records were in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83. The motion was ultimately denied.

On appeal, Davis-Martin argued the St. Joseph Superior Court should have granted his motion to correct error because the state violated Brady “by failing to disclose Davis-Martin’s cellular phone records which were material.” But citing the instant case’s similarity to the case of Bates v. State, 77 N.E.3d 1223, 1226 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017), the appellate court found Davis-Martin’s Brady challenge failed for two reasons.

“First, Davis-Martin’s failure to request a continuance negates any claim of actual prejudice. A request for a continuance would have allowed the trial court and the parties to discuss this issue in real time — and not in a motion to correct error after trial,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in a 32-page opinion. “Second, Davis-Martin has failed to prove that the State’s late disclosure so prejudiced his preparation or presentation of his defense that he was prevented from receiving his constitutionally guaranteed fair trial.

“Davis-Martin claims that his cell-phone records — which do not show a call from his cell phone to his mother’s cell phone around 2 to 3 a.m. on January 16 — would have ‘dispel[led]’ (witness) testimony that he called his mother from the car and asked her to destroy evidence,” Vaidik continued. She also noted defense counsel had made that point during cross-examination and in her closing argument.

“Notably, Davis-Martin does not cite any additional information from his cell-phone records that he would have used,” Vaidik concluded. “In any event, Detective Cook testified that even if the cell-phone records did not contain such a call, a call still could have been made using the internet.”

The appellate panel also rejected Davis-Martin’s arguments that the trial court erred in instructing the jury and that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated when the state admitted evidence from his mother that he initially said he did not wish to speak to police. That evidence, Davis-Martins unsuccessfully argued, was a violation of his Fifth Amendment self-incrimination rights.

The court also found sufficient evidence to support the conviction, noting any weaknesses in the evidence were made known to the jury by the defense. And the panel also upheld his sentence, finding the trial court did not err in its consideration of mitigating factors.

Thus, the appellate court affirmed Davis-Martin’s conviction and sentence in Jabreeh Cash Davis-Martin v. State of Indiana, 71A05-1712-CR-2963.

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