COA affirms murder conviction for man who killed 4-year-old

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a former Danville man’s murder conviction following the death of his girlfriend’s minor child from multiple blunt force traumatic injuries.

Michael Atkinson was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to 65 years in the Indiana Department of Correction after beating to death his girlfriend’s 4-year-old son, J.S., who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and defiance disorder.

While the child was in Atkinson’s care when his mother was attending a concert, Atkinson called to inform her that the child had stopped breathing and that she needed to return home immediately.  When medics arrived, the child did not have a pulse and was not breathing, and was taken to the hospital where physicians found the child to be covered in bruises. The child later died after being transported to Riley Hospital for Children.

Experts testified that the child’s injuries occurred through multiple blows and falls and that the injuries included multiple blunt force traumatic injuries to the head, and blunt force injuries to the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.

After being charged and during his trial, Atkinson filed his proposed final instructions to the trial court, which included proposed instructions for the lesser included offenses of involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide. However, the trial court denied Atkinson’s request to include both instructions for involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide.

Atkinson was charged with Level 1 felony counts of aggravated battery and Level 1 felony neglect of a dependent resulting in death, after which the state added a charge of murder. A Hendricks Superior jury ultimately found Atkinson guilty of all charges, and the lesser counts were vacated due to double jeopardy concerns.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Michael Philip Atkinson v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2568, first noting that the child’s injuries were so severe that no reasonable person could have found the injuries to have been inflicted only recklessly.

“The record reveals no serious evidentiary dispute that Atkinson acted knowingly instead of recklessly. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give the reckless homicide instruction,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the appellate court.

It likewise could not find an evidentiary dispute regarding Atkinson’s intent to kill. Thus, the appellate court concluded that the trial court did not err in additionally failing to give the involuntary manslaughter instruction.

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