COA: Evidence sufficient for church intimidation conviction

A man’s felony conviction for intimidating members of his former church will stand, but his case has been remanded to clarify he is not permitted to have a firearm during probation.

Josh McBride lived next door to and attended the Anderson Valley Christian Church in Dubois County. When one of his dogs bit another church member, McBride was asked to restrain his dogs and keep them inside during church services so no one else would be hurt.

At some point, one of his dogs died, and McBride believed someone associated with the church had poisoned it. Shortly after, McBride’s son addressed the entire congregation the following Sunday, calling the congregant who reported the dog bite a liar.  

Around this same time, the words “Lying hypocrites” were spray painted in red on the horizontal bar of a stone cross on McBride’s property that faced the church. When McBride then threatened to bring guns to church, its elders issued a no trespass letter informing McBride and his family that they were no longer welcome to attend the church or be on its property.

The next Sunday, church members found a decapitated dog hanging from the cross on McBride’s property and the man and his son were seen walking along the property line firing shots “one after another” at the ground. McBride was also found riding an ATV up and down the property line making “obnoxiously loud” noises during the church service hour and an explosion occurred, according to the record.

McBride was subsequently convicted of Level 5 felony intimidation and sentenced to four years in the Indiana Department of Corrections. McBride appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, and contesting that his display and discharge of firearms communicated a threat to the congregation or that “his lawful use of firearms at his personal residence was intended to force church members to alter their activities at church.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed there was sufficient evidence to support his conviction, finding McBride did not simply display a firearm as in Gaddis v. State, 680 N.E.2d 860, 862 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997), nor did he simply legally discharge a firearm on a given day. Rather, the escalating tensions between McBride and the church as a result of accusations and actions made it difficult to perceive them as anything other than a threat.

“Multiple members of the Church testified that McBride’s actions that day caused them to fear they would be injured simply by attending their regular church services. Such fear was likely to be instilled in a reasonable person in that situation, and therefore the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court’s finding that McBride was guilty of intimidation,” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the panel.

The appellate panel additionally found it was within the church’s rights to send the no trespass letter and that there was sufficient evidence to show that McBride communicated a threat intending for church members to be placed in fear of retaliation for issuing it.

However, the appellate court noted the trial court imposed a term of probation that both conflicts with another term and with federal law.

“In sentencing McBride to a term of probation, the trial court imposed certain conditions of probation, including that McBride could not purchase, possess, or use any firearm ‘unless granted written permission by the Court or [his] Probation Officer,’” Judge Margret Robb wrote.

“Contemporaneously, the trial court issued a No Contact Order While On Probation imposing, ‘in addition to all other conditions previously specified[,]’ a condition prohibiting McBride from having contact with the Church or its member and stating that he ‘is ordered to have no firearms, deadly weapons, or ammunition in [his] possession.’ The no contact order also references 18 U.S.C. section 922(g),” Robb continued. “It appears, therefore, that the trial court is aware of the restrictions on convicted felons contained in federal law. Nonetheless, there is an obvious conflict in the trial court’s orders.”

It therefore remanded Josh McBride v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-580 for the trial court to modify the terms of McBride’s probation to remove the conditional language and unequivocally state that he is not permitted to have a firearm during his probation.

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