Evidence supports convictions in Evansville auto-theft case

Auto-theft convictions have been upheld for a man who unsuccessfully argued that a vehicle he stole didn’t belong to its rightful owner.

When Cheryl Fenwick discovered that her 1987 Jeep Comanche had been stolen from a parking lot near her home, she made calls to local salvage yards to try and find it. She discovered that the Jeep had been sold for scrap metal at one of the locations, and Evansville police were sent to investigate.

The Jeep, which needed some new parts but was otherwise functional, had been partially crushed and several pieces were removed. James E. Martin, Jr. later admitted to having arranged for someone to tow the Jeep from the parking lot to the salvage yard. He also confessed to signing an affidavit saying he was the owner of the Jeep and receiving payment of $121.60 for the transaction.

Martin was convicted of Level 6 felony auto theft and agreed “to make full and complete restitution in an amount to be determined by the court.”

The car’s owner asserted that she was owed $3,500 for the loss of her Jeep based on reports she found online estimating the “low retail” value of its model. She also testified and valued the Jeep to be worth at least $2,000 — the amount the trial court ultimately ordered Martin to pay in restitution.

Martin argued on appeal that amount was unsupported by evidence, claiming Fenwick might not have actually owned the Jeep, and that it was nonetheless not worth $2,000. However, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded otherwise in James E. Martin, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-2726.

“In this case, Fenwick testified that her husband had bought the 1987 Jeep Comanche from a friend who has since passed away. She further explained that prior to the theft, the Jeep had a camper shell. It needed a new clutch plate and a new driver’s side window but was otherwise functional. She also had in her possession a title to the vehicle,” Senior Judge Carr L. Darden wrote for the appellate panel.

“Martin’s argument is a request for us to reweigh the evidence, which we cannot do,” the panel continued. “Under the particular facts and circumstances in this case, the restitution award was within the range of the evidence presented as to the Jeep’s pre-theft value. The award thus was an attempt to make Fenwick whole rather than award her a windfall.”

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