COA upholds murder, battery convictions under previous, new double jeopardy precedent

A man convicted of murder and battery related to the same incident failed in his double jeopardy argument before the Indiana Court of Appeals, which analyzed both previous caselaw and new double-jeopardy precedent to uphold his convictions.

In John Woodcock v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-432, appellant-defendant John Woodcock was at Tammy Baker’s house twice on July 8, 2018. Both times he used methamphetamine, first with Michael “Grim” Packard and later with Jackie Dotts. Early the next morning, Woodcock and Dots went to Packard’s house to collect money for Baker.

The two biked to Packard’s house, and when Dotts arrived, Packard was asleep in his truck with Woodcock’s bike in the bed. Woodcock, however, was not around.

Meanwhile, Adam Walls and his girlfriend Heather Mandujano, who lived with Packard, were asleep when someone knocked on the window. The person identified himself as “Grim,” so Walls unlocked the back door. There was another knock on the window, but when Walls found no one at the back door, he went around front and found Woodcock on the porch and Packard in the truck.

Woodcock was “acting weird and crazy,” Walls later recalled, telling Walls that they had a problem and Woodcock was getting “personal” with him. Walls tried to recruit the help of Packard and Dotts, but when the trio returned to the house, Woodcock was gone. They found him in the kitchen, where Woodcock put a gun to Walls’ head.

Walls retreated to his bedroom, where Mandujano had woken up. She tried to push Woodcock away as he tried to open the door, so Woodcock shot her in the forehead. The bullet ricocheted into Walls’ bicep.

Mandujano later died from her gunshot wound, and the bullet remains in Walls’ arm. Woodcock was charged and convicted of felony murder and Level 5 felony battery my means of a deadly weapon, and the Marion Superior Court sentenced him to an aggregate 62 years.

On appeal, Woodcock first argued that his convictions violated the Indiana constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. His argument, however, was based on the now-overruled holding in Richardson v. State, 717 N.E.2d 32 (Ind. 1999).

As an initial matter, the Court of Appeals rejected Woodcock’s argument that Richardson’s “very same act” common law rule survived the state’s new double jeopardy analysis announced in Wadle v. State, 151 N.E.3d 227 (Ind. 2020). The court then said Wadle was “potentially” applicable to Woodcock’s case, though it did not decide the retroactivity question definitively.

“Under either the Richardson common law formulation prohibiting multiple convictions and sentences for ‘the very same act’ or the Wadle analysis, there is no violation,” Judge Margret Robb wrote in a Thursday opinion.

“Had Woodcock been convicted of the murder and battery of Mandujano alone, his behavior underlying the murder would have been coextensive with the behavior necessary to establish battery,” Robb wrote. “But here, the convictions for the murder of Mandujano and the battery of Walls, though accomplished by a single gunshot, did not correspond exactly in extent, as the single act constituted crimes against separate victims. And it is clear that Richardson’s five common law protections are not violated where, as here, the conviction at issue involve different victims. … Thus, under pre-Wadle law, Woodcock’s double jeopardy claim would fail.”

Turning next to the new analysis under Wadle, Robb first noted that neither the murder statute nor the battery statute clearly permit multiple convictions. And under the next part of the analysis – whether one offense is included in the other – she wrote that battery was not a lesser included offense of the murder charge.

“Because neither murder nor battery by a deadly weapon is included in the other either inherently or as charged, Woodcock’s convictions do not constitute double jeopardy,” Robb wrote. “… According to Wadle, there is therefore no need to further examine the specific facts of the case to determine whether Woodcock’s actions were ‘so compressed in terms of time, place, singleness of purpose, and continuity of action as to constitute a single transaction.’”

But even under that third leg of the analysis, Wadle still would not work in Woodcock’s favor, Robb continued. That’s because Mandujano’s murder and the battery against Walls “were two distinct chargeable crimes.”

The COA used Woodcock’s case to “highlight() the tenuous distinction between Wadle” and Powell v. State, 151 N.E.3d 256 (Ind. 2020), another double jeopardy case handed down the same day. If Mandujano and Walls had met the same fate, Robb wrote, the analysis might be under Powell. Thus, the panel warned against “the perils of mechanically applying the Wadle test.

“An included offense analysis involves comparing the material elements of the offenses; where, as here, one of the material elements of both offenses is a victim, and a separate victim is alleged for each offense, it would seem by definition one offense cannot be either a factually or inherently included lesser offense of the other,” Robb wrote. “… In effect, if there are two separate victims there cannot be a double jeopardy problem as to the offenses they might have in common.”

Woodcock’s sufficiency-of-the-evidence argument against his battery conviction fared no better than his double jeopardy argument. The panel found sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude he could be convicted of battery for Walls’ injury.

Finally, the COA rejected Woodcock’s challenge to his aggregate sentence.

“In sum, Woodcock has not met his burden of persuading us that the nature of his offenses or his character make his sixty-two-year sentence for the murder of Mandujano and battery of Walls inappropriate,” the panel concluded.

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