Murderer’s appeal seeking mistrial heads to Petersburg

An Indiana Court of Appeals panel will travel to Pike Central High School in southwestern Indiana on Tuesday to hear oral argument in a double murder case, considering whether certain comments made by a juror during trial resulted in an impartial jury.

Judges John Baker, Edward Najam and Elaine Brown will hear a man appeal his 121-year sentence and convictions of two counts of felony murder and Class A misdemeanor trespass in Hambel v. State, beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the school in Petersburg.

Concerns were raised at trial in Washington Circuit Court in Salem regarding comments one juror made to others about a family member’s opinion of Joe Paul Hambel, leading the trial court to interview several jurors. Hambel moved for a mistrial based on the inappropriate communications and the jurors’ improper deliberation before the end of the trial. After questioning the remainder of the jury, the trial court denied Hambel’s motion for a mistrial.

The court then dismissed the juror who had made extrajudicial comments and admonished the jury that it could only consider evidence admitted to the court. The jury ultimately found Hambel guilty, and he was sentenced to an aggregate 121-year sentence.

On appeal, Hambel argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it did not grant his motion for a mistrial based on the extrajudicial communications and on the alleged premature deliberations by the jury. He also asserts the cumulative impact of the trial court’s errors deprived him of his right to be tried by an impartial jury, even if those individual errors do not require reversal. Lastly, he contends that his sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and his character. 

The state argues, among other things, that there was no abuse of discretion in denying Hambel’s motion for a mistrial on either ground, and that his sentence is not inappropriate.

The argument will be at Pike Central High School, 1810 E. State Road 56, Petersburg.

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