COA upholds GBMI ruling in deadly Monument Circle attack

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A man found guilty but mentally ill of a Monument Circle attack that left one person dead has lost his appeal of his convictions and sentence, including his appeal of the finding that he could appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct.

In October 2017, two separate parties were visiting the Soldiers and Sailors Monument when they were confronted and attacked by Jonathan Belcher. As Jennifer Crouch took photos of her family on the monument’s steps, Belcher approached her and asked what she was doing, walked away and returned to push her down and kick her in the head.

As Belcher walked away, two men also visiting the monument heard his shouting and were subsequently confronted by him. Belcher swung at one of the men, David Smith, punching him in the side of the head. Smith suffered serious brain injuries and later died.

Belcher was arrested and evaluated by psychologists, who deemed him not competent to stand trial because of his mental illness and previous diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Belcher had admitted to using marijuana on the day of his arrest, and he had told one of the same psychologists years prior that using the drug made him paranoid.

While two of the evaluators found Belcher did not appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions, one determined to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that Belcher did appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions. The Marion Superior Court agreed with the latter finding.

The trial court ultimately found Belcher guilty but mentally ill and convicted him of two counts of Level 3 felony aggravated battery and one count each of Class B misdemeanor battery and Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement. It also found him to be a habitual offender and issued an aggregate 53-year-and-180-day sentence.

Belcher appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding that he understood and appreciated the wrongfulness of his conduct. In affirming the trial court’s decision in Jonathan Belcher v. State of Indiana,19A-CR-830, the Indiana Court of Appeals noted inconsistencies in statements made by Belcher to two of the doctors. It also noted Belcher’s statements during the evaluations that he had previously been found not responsible by reason of insanity in another criminal case and suggested the same result should be reached in the case at hand.

Additionally, the appellate court found sufficient evidence supported the rejection of his insanity defense and showed he appreciated the wrongfulness of his convictions, including Belcher’s attempts to evade arrest, his act of walking away from others that confronted him following the incidents and his statements to officers that the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has jurisdiction of the monument, not the Indiana State Police.

The appellate panel also found the trial court had considered Belcher’s mental illness, finding its implicit decision not to give it too much mitigating weight was not an abuse of discretion.

“It is undisputed that Belcher suffers from a mental illness,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the panel. “However, there is sufficient evidence that he appreciated the wrongfulness of his actions.”

Finally, the appellate court affirmed Belcher’s sentence, finding it was not inappropriate.

“The nature of Belcher’s offenses is particularly troubling. Belcher’s assaults on Smith and Crouch were unprovoked, violent, and senseless. Belcher attacked the victims in public and in front of children,” May wrote. “The victims were strangers to Belcher, out-of-town visitors admiring one of Indianapolis’ signature attractions. The victims sustained severe injuries, with Smith’s injuries ultimately proving fatal… The nature of Belcher’s offenses merits a sentence above the advisory.”

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