COA affirms murder conviction over challenged letter

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The Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected a South Bend murderer’s claim that a letter he purportedly sent from the St. Joseph County Jail implicating another man in the shooting death was wrongly admitted at his trial because it was not properly authenticated.

The appellate panel affirmed Presley Jermaine Brown’s convictions of murder and Level 3 felony attempted armed robbery in Presley Jermaine Brown v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2125.

According to the record, Brown and his girlfriend identified a target to rob after setting up a marijuana purchase. As Brown and two others waited outside the home, the intended target’s housemate, Tyler Hurtle, pulled in the driveway and went to the door with his girlfriend, at which time Brown and another man got out of the car and proceeded toward the house. As Hurtle was unlocking the door, he was struck on the head and shot multiple times after he fell into bushes, and his girlfriend fled. Hurtle died from gunshot wounds.

Brown was charged a little more than a year after the killing with police relying on evidence that included shell casings that matched a gun Brown possessed, cellphone records that placed him near the scene of the crime and statements from jail mates who said Brown had relayed details of the crime. A jury convicted Brown and sentenced him to an aggregate 92 years in prison.

Also entered into evidence was a letter Brown allegedly sent from jail that purported to fix blame for the shooting on his alleged accomplice, Sir Lloyd. The letter was sent to the lawyer for the Caleb Smith, the man who allegedly drove the car carrying Brown and Lloyd, and the attorney provided the letter to prosecutors.

Brown objected to the admission of the letter because he claimed there was insufficient evidence he had written it, but the COA was not convinced.

The appellate court was satisfied that the trial court had compared the letter with others in evidence that Brown had written from jail and found the letter in question to be authentic. Further, the jury was able to review samples of handwriting provided by Brown’s defense and compare those to the letter.

“Under the circumstances, it was reasonable for the trial court to take judicial notice that the documents filed with the court had been written by Brown,” Judge Terry Crone wrote. “Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the State’s exhibits, and we affirm Brown’s convictions.”

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