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COA rejects hearsay exception argument, upholds murder conviction

February 18, 2019

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a man’s murder conviction and 65-year sentence after finding the defendant failed to show how out-of-court statements allegedly made by several individuals qualified as an exception to the hearsay rule.

In June 2017, Deryan Cook saw a man and woman walking through a Walgreens parking lot and started following them. A few minutes later, Cook ordered the couple to get on the ground and began shooting at them. Cook then ran off, and one of the individuals, Jamie Baker, died before emergency personnel arrived on the scene.

Cook then returned to his apartment and told his friends what had happened, saying that he “had to do it” because Baker wouldn’t give up her purse. When one of the friends informed the police a few days later, the other shooting victim, Michael Turpin, was able to identify Cook as the shooter, leading to his arrest and murder charge.

During questioning, Cook informed Detective Peter DeYoung that he had been with Jerome Height when Height had attempted to rob the couple and then shot Baker. Cook also told the detective he had run back to his apartment after the shooting and cried, adding that he did not “mess around with guns.”

However, Cook later admitted that he had possession of the murder weapon a week before the murder and that he had given it to Height. He also admitted to standing at the Walgreens and following the individuals, but he said Height had fired the shots.

A jury ultimately convicted Cook of murder and a firearm enhancement. Before imposing Cook’s sentence, the trial court noted Cook’s youth and relative lack of a prior criminal history, as well as his daily use of marijuana for several years prior to and at the time of his arrest. It then imposed a 65-year sentence.

On appeal, Cook argued the Vanderburgh Superior Court erred in excluding evidence regarding statements Height allegedly made during a jail conversation, in which Height allegedly admitted to shooting Baker. The state contended the trial court properly excluded the statements as inadmissible hearsay, but Cook said the statements were admissible to show the course of the investigation – specifically, “to prove Detective DeYoung’s bias toward Cook and refusal to look for another suspect.”

But the Indiana Court of Appeals noted DeYoung interviewed Height after interviewing Cook, which thus refuted Cook’s argument. It also noted DeYoung testified that he had followed up on his interview with Cook by questioning Height, who had denied shooting Baker.  Thus, the appellate court found the out-of-court statements had “little or no bearing on Detective DeYoung’s particular course of action during the investigation and are therefore hearsay.”

“In addition, because the out-of-court statements involve hearsay within hearsay, which is also known as multiple or double hearsay, the statements are not admissible unless each layer of hearsay qualifies under an exception to the hearsay rule,” Judge Rudy Pyle wrote for the court, referencing Evidence Rule 805 and Teague v. State, 978 N.E.2d at 1187 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012). “Here, Cook has failed to set forth how each layer of the out-of-court statements allegedly made by Height, (Geonovan) Bailey, and Detective (Karen) Montgomery qualifies as an exception to the hearsay rule.”

The appellate court further found that Cook’s sentence was not inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense or his character in Deryan Oneil Cook v. State of Indiana,18A-CR-348, considering the fact that he “shot the woman in the back as she walked away and attempted to avoid any conflict with him.”

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