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Murder conviction stands for man who beat toddler to death

April 11, 2019

A man convicted of beating a 2-year to death failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that his 65-year sentence should be reversed, concluding that the trial court did not misinterpret the terms of his plea agreement.

Trevor Wert received the maximum sentence after he was convicted of murder in the death of a child in his care. While his wife and her friend worked a night shift, Wert was left in charge of the friend’s two daughters, including 2-year-old Railee Ewing.

When Railee’s mother came to pick the children up after her shift, the Railee’s body was limp. Wert explained that she had been injured “during the night” when she fell and hit her face on the bathtub. The child was pronounced dead after being rushed to the hospital, and medical professionals concluded that she had suffered multiple blunt-force traumatic injuries.

However, Wert told detectives that when he awoke to Railee crying in the bathroom, he became “enraged” and struck Railee multiple times. When Railee tried to leave the bathroom, Wert kicked her in the buttocks, slamming her into the door frame, where she fell silent.

Wert was charged with murder and Level 1 felony child molesting, but the latter charge was dropped after he entered a plea agreement on the murder charge.

After issuing Wert’s sentence, the trial court later issued a written sentencing order, which provided in pertinent part: “The reason for the imposition of this sentence is that it is the one called for in the plea agreement by the Prosecuting Attorney and the Defendant and which the Court has accepted. The Court is, therefore, bound to impose it.”

Wert then appealed, arguing among other things that the trial court erred in entering a written sentencing order that suggested the trial court believed it was obligated under the terms of the plea agreement to impose no less than a 65-year sentence.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Wert’s conviction and sentence, finding neither were inappropriate given the “horrific nature” of the offense.

It did, however, note that the trial court made a mistake in its written sentencing order when it concluded that the sentence was imposed because it was called for in the plea agreement.

To defend that decision, the appellate court noted that both parties agreed and understood that the sentencing range for murder was between 45 and 65 years, and that the trial court explicitly acknowledged the range before considering the Wert’s aggravating and mitigating factors.

“Finally, right before imposing sentence, the trial court again recognized the sentencing range when it said that whether Wert’s sentence was forty-five or sixty-five years, it would be a life sentence for him,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the unanimous panel. “In light of the trial court’s comments at the sentencing hearing, we conclude that the trial court did not misinterpret the terms of Wert’s plea agreement but rather made a mistake in its written sentencing order.”

It therefore remanded the case to the trial court for the limited purpose of issuing a new written sentencing order in Trevor Wert v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-92. The appellate court additionally noted that no abuse of discretion occurred when the trial court found Wert’s health conditions did not impact his murder sentence.

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