62-year sentence affirmed for Evansville teen in murder case

A 62-year sentence has been affirmed for a teenager convicted of murdering a man outside of an Evansville gas station and food market, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Paris Cornell, a 15-year-old at the time of the crime, was buying food from Sam’s Food Market with three of his friends when he returned to the parking lot and fatally shot Kevin Colon in the chest. Colon was attempting to purchase marijuana from two men in the parking lot with a $20 bill when Cornell shot him.

Cornell was charged and convicted as an adult with two counts of felony murder and Level 3 felony counts of attempted armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. He was also found eligible for a firearm sentencing enhancement. Both murder counts were merged during a sentencing hearing, and the attempted robbery count was merged with the conspiracy count. Cornell received an aggregate sentence of 62 years to be served in the Department of Correction.

On appeal, he asserted among other things that he was denied equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when the Vanderburgh Circuit Court allowed the state to strike one of only two black jurors. Cornell presented a Batson challenge, which was overruled when the trial court determined the state’s reason for striking the juror was race-neutral.

“Cornell contends that the removal of one of two Black jurors from the jury panel constitutes the type of ‘disproportionate’ exclusion contemplated by Batson and thus makes for a prima facie case of discrimination,” Judge John Baker wrote for the appellate court. “We disagree.”

Citing Hardister v. State, 849 N.E.2d 563, 576 (Ind. 2006), the appellate court noted that the Indiana Supreme Court found no prima facie discrimination where the state exercised five of six peremptory challenges to strike potential black jurors from the panel, leaving only one remaining after a sixth juror was additionally struck.

“If striking six of seven total Black jurors from the panel was not sufficient to create a prima facie case of discrimination, then we would be hard pressed to find prima facie discrimination in Cornell’s case,” the panel wrote.

It likewise concluded that taken at face value, the state’s proffered explanation was a “sufficiently race-neutral explanation” for striking the juror and that there was no evidence undermining the credibility of that explanation.

The appellate court additionally found Cornell effectively opened the door to further questioning on statements made by one of his friends, Denyae Burris, and to their admission as substantive evidence, finding the trial court did not err in its ruling on their admissibility. It also concluded that Cornell’s Sixth Amendment rights were not violated by the admission of Burris’ hearsay statements.

“Denyae was available as a witness and testified at trial; Cornell even admitted at trial that he ‘ha[d] the opportunity to cross examine’ Denyae. Rather than refusing to answer the questions posed to him, Denyae merely answered — willingly — that he did not remember or know the details, but this does not render him unavailable for purposes of the Confrontation Clause,” the appellate court wrote.

Lastly, the panel concluded Cornell’s aggregate sentence was not inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and his character, despite his young age. The appellate court thus affirmed in Paris Cornell v. State of Indiana,19A-CR-1101. https://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/01092001jgb.pdf

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