COA denies appeal by man who murdered Goshen College professor

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected.

An Indiana man convicted of murdering a Goshen College professor and who also attempted to murder the teacher’s wife should remain behind bars for life, the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled Wednesday.

The COA affirmed the Elkhart Circuit Court’s 115-year sentencing of Winston E. Corbett, as well as his convictions of murder and attempted murder.

In October 2011, Jim and Linda Miller were brutally attacked in their home in Goshen just after midnight while waiting for their children to return home from a band competition.

When police arrived, Jim was found dead in the driveway, having been stabbed at least 50 times. Linda survived with serious injuries.

DNA evidence was collected from the home, but no suspect was identified at the time. Also at the time, there was evidence suggesting attempted entry into other neighboring homes.

In 2018, a detective with the Goshen Police Department sent the DNA evidence to a genealogy company for testing and received Corbett’s name as a possible lead. Corbett, who was 16 at the time of the attack, was living with his mother less than a mile away from the Millers after being discharged from the U.S. Navy.

Further investigation led to law enforcement conducting a “knock and talk” followed by a trash search of Corbett’s home. After more testing, it was determined the DNA from the crime scene matched Corbett’s.

Corbett was later charged with and convicted of the murder of Jim and the attempted murder of Linda and sentenced to 115 years in prison.

On appeal, Corbett raised several challenges to his convictions and sentence. To begin, he argued the knock and talk was an unconstitutional search, as was the police’s trash pull, so the remaining evidence in the affidavit was therefore uncorroborated hearsay.

On the knock and talk issue, the COA found the detective did not violate Corbett’s rights under the Fourth Amendment, as the officer intended to speak to the occupants and determine who lived at the home, which is authorized in Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1 (2013). Officers also did not violate Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, as the actions were not unreasonable under the totality of the circumstances, the COA opined.

The COA again denied the argument of a violation of Article 1, Section 11 rights as it pertained to the trash pull, pointing to Rotz v. State, 894 N.E.2d 989, 993 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008).

Corbett also contended the search warrant was invalid because the affidavit was based “on hearsay from an anonymous source,” but the COA disagreed.

“His argument fails from the onset, since, as we explained above, neither the knock and talk nor the trash pull was unconstitutional,” COA Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the court. “Therefore, the affidavit here contained not only the hearsay evidence naming Corbett as an ‘investigative lead,’ but also other evidence that corroborated the hearsay and provided sufficient probable cause.”

Next, on bad acts evidence claims, Corbett contended the Elkhart Circuit Court abused its discretion in admitting evidence, under Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b)(2), as it pertained to the other homes that were broken into. The COA found the trial court did abuse its discretion, pointing to Camm v. State, 908 N.E.2d 215, 224 (Ind. 2009), reh’g denied.

Corbett also argued — and the state conceded — the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the Article 15 nonjudicial punishment he received while in the Navy under Indiana Evidence Rule 609(a)(2). Specifically, Corbett argued the nonjudicial punishment did not constitute a criminal conviction with which he could be impeached.

While the COA found the trial court erred in admitting the evidence, it opined there was still substantial evidence of guilt.

On his sentencing, which was the maximum on both the murder and attempted murder charges, Corbett emphasized his lack of criminal history, his five-year service in the U.S. Navy and his classification as low-risk to reoffend under the Indiana Risk Assessment System.

The COA wasn’t convinced, finding “the brutal nature of the crimes supports his sentence.”

“It is true we often decrease sentences for juvenile offenders, noting their immaturity and the rehabilitative nature of our judicial system,” Vaidik wrote. “However, that is not the case for all crimes committed by juveniles, as shown in Conley v. State, 972 N.E.2d 864 (Ind. 2012), reh’g denied. In Conley, our Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a juvenile who murdered his ten-year-old brother. In doing so, the Court noted the ‘brutality’ of the offense … .

“… The same can be said here. Corbett attacked the Millers in their own home with apparently no motive. He stabbed them both repeatedly, and the crime was drawn out — as evidenced by the number of wounds on the victims alone.”

The case is Winston E. Corbett v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-118.

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