Appeals court tosses murder conviction due to lack of jury instruction

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A unanimous panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals threw out a man’s murder conviction Monday after finding that the Marion Superior Court abused its discretion in refusing to provide the jury an instruction on reckless homicide.

While sitting in a parking lot after a repass dinner that had followed a funeral he attended on September 30, 2017, driver Kirk Shurill began “burning rubber” on the tires of the car he was in, creating smoke. Jeffrey Buckley, who was also leaving the dinner, leaned into the passenger-side window of the car and told Shurill to stop.

The two men, who didn’t know each other, exchanged words, and then Shurill let off the brake, causing the car to start moving forward while Buckley was still leaning through the window. In the span of a few seconds, eight to 12 shots were fired inside the vehicle and Buckley fell from the car’s window just before it collided with another car.

Shurill was later pronounced dead, and Buckley was charged with murder. Buckley later argued that he was acting in self-defense. He testified that he leaned farther into the vehicle and, using both of his hands, tried to get control of the gun that was pointed at him by Shurill.

At the close of evidence, Buckley requested that the jury be instructed regarding reckless homicide, but the Marion Superior Court refused, stating that the reckless homicide instruction was not warranted because it was “a straight self-defense case.” A jury ultimately found Buckley guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to 60 years in the Department of Correction.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for Buckley, finding there was a serious evidentiary dispute as to Buckley’s intent.

“From the evidence, the jury could have concluded that Buckley acted ‘in plain, conscious, and unjustifiable disregard of harm that might result and the disregard involve[d] a substantial deviation from acceptable standards of conduct’ when, after he gained control of gun and while leaning through the window of a moving car, he fired the gun, hitting Shurill numerous times,” Judge Robert Altice wrote in a memorandum decision.

The unanimous COA therefore found the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to instruct the jury on reckless homicide, reversed Buckley’s murder conviction and remanded for a new trial.

The case is Jeffery R. Buckley v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.), 19A-CR-1028. 

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