COA rejects evidentiary challenges to Spencer Co. murder

A Spencer County man who shot and killed his girlfriend failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals to overturn his murder conviction on evidentiary grounds.

On the phone with Spencer County 911, Linda Bowman declared, “I have a boyfriend that lives with me and he’s hittin’ me. … He’s threatening’ me with a gun, he’s gonna shoot!” The line then went dead before Bowman’s boyfriend, Alan Bennett, called back: “I shot Linda and tried to kill myself.” When officers later responded to the scene, Bennett was heard saying he “had to kill her because she wouldn’t stop b—-ing.”

Bennett was subsequently charged with murder, but he moved to dismiss the charge because the state had cleaned his muzzleloader while performing tests on it, amounting to destruction of materially exculpatory evidence. The Spencer Circuit Court denied the motion but gave Bennett money for a ballistics expert who testified that cleaning the weapon destroyed evidence of powder and residue that could have been analyzed.

Bennett also challenged the trial court’s order holding that “limited evidence of the effect of voluntary intoxication may be used by a defendant in his defense in other relevant areas besides mens rea … .” Bennett was permitted to present two witnesses who testified to the physiological and psychological effects of alcohol, and the jury was instructed on self-defense. However, the jury was also instructed that voluntary intoxication is not a defense to murder.

After he was convicted and sentenced to 65 years in the Indiana Department of Correction, Bennett appealed, again challenging the cleaning of the gun and the limit on his evidence of voluntary intoxication in support of his self-defense claim. But the Court of Appeals affirmed in full Monday in Alan Lee Bennett v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-2061. 

As to Bennett’s claim of destruction of evidence, Judge Leanna Weissmann wrote that “the corrosion and buildup removed from the muzzleloader in the course of cleaning was not ‘materially exculpatory’ evidence.” Rather, “his own expert did not testify that corrosion would have caused the gun to fire without pulling the trigger. And although the State’s expert testified that corroded muzzleloaders can accidentally fire as they are loaded, Bennett testified that he had loaded the firearm sometime before the day of the murder.

“… The defense therefore failed to show that examining the gun before it was cleaned could have provided evidence that Bennett did not act knowingly or intentionally when he pulled the trigger,” Weissmann wrote. She added that Bennett also “failed to establish that he could not obtain comparable evidence of the corrosion by other means.”

Bennett also argued on appeal that evidence of his intoxication should have been permitted to support his subjective belief that force was necessary for his protection at the time of the shooting. But the COA disagreed, holding instead that “to permit voluntary intoxication evidence for this purpose would impermissibly resurrect the voluntary intoxication defense, which has been lifeless since the Indiana General Assembly enacted Public Law 210 in 1997.

“… Though P.L 210 did not explicitly forbid voluntary intoxication from forming the basis of a self-defense claim, we do not believe our General Assembly meant to create a loophole,” Weissmann wrote for the unanimous appellate panel. “By adding that voluntary intoxication ‘is not a defense,’ the text of P.L. 210 indicates the legislature’s desire to completely eliminate voluntary intoxication as an excuse for criminal behavior.

“… Because using evidence of voluntary intoxication to advance a self-defense claim would run afoul of Indiana Code § 35-41-2-5,” Weissmann wrote, “the trial court did not err in limiting admission of that evidence.”

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