COA: Bail bondsmen prevail in slaying of Kosciusko County man with outstanding charges

Two parents seeking justice for their son after he was shot and killed during an attempt by bail bondsmen to apprehend him at their home did not sway an Indiana Court of Appeals decision that ruled for the bail bond company.

A $25,000 bond was set for Gary Helman in 2013 after he was convicted of several felonies and a misdemeanor. He was released from custody after his mother, Atta Belle Helman, paid Barnett’s Bail Bonds, Inc. a $2,500 premium.

But when Gary later failed to appear in court for his outstanding charges, the Kosciusko County Superior Court ordered the bail bond company to apprehend and surrender Gary to the court.

When the three men selected to apprehend Gary prepared to enter the home where he was located, two of the men saw his mother outside the back door. They grabbed her and tried to subdue her. Shots were then exchanged and ultimately Gary was killed.

The Helmans sued Barnett’s Bail Bonds, Inc., bondsmen Tadd S. Martin, Daniel S. Foster, Michael C. Thomas, and Lexington National Insurance Corporation, alleging multiple intentional torts, including assault and trespass against the three bondsmen, as well as negligence per se and vicarious liability.

But a jury ultimately ruled against the Helmans, which the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Atta Belle Helman, et al. v. Barnett’s Bail Bonds, Inc , et al., 20A-CT-01526.

On appeal, the COA initially found the Helmans waived their first contention for review as to whether the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted evidence that criminal charges had not been filed against Martin, Foster, or Thomas.

It next concluded that the Helmans have not met their burden on appeal to show that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused their proffered instruction No. 62.

“In any event, we note that the Helmans’ ‘primary concern’ on appeal is that the jury was not instructed that bail bondsmen do not have any authority to harm third parties to a bond contract,” Judge Edward Najam wrote. “As the trial court stated, ‘obviously the jury was not instructed that a bail agent has any rights to infringe on a third party just like no one has the rights to infringe on a third party.’”

Finally, it concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it failed to include in the verdict forms a way for the jury to assign percentages of fault to the parties under the Comparative Fault Act. The COA held that because the jury found that none of the defendants were liable to the Helmans, there was no need to provide for the allocation of fault on the verdict forms.

“Nothing in the Act requires that a jury allocate fault in the liability phase of a trial. And the Helmans’ sole contention on appeal is that the verdict forms were defective,” it wrote. “They make no contention that the trial court should have, but failed to, instruct the jury on the Act.”

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