Conspiracy conviction vacated as double jeopardy in Muncie murder

Despite there being sufficient evidence to support a man’s conspiracy and murder convictions, the conspiracy conviction must be vacated on double jeopardy grounds, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In Daveon L. Hendricks v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-690, C.O. and S.J. shared a house in Muncie during the summer of 2015. Daveon Hendricks, William Balfour, Darius Covington and Artie Thomas knew S.J. from school, and Balfour and Hendricks were cousins.

C.O. and S.J. sold marijuana out of their house, and Hendricks purchased some from C.O. in June 2015. Later that month, Balfour went to the house with a group that sold a rifle to C.O. Balfour later expressed displeasure with the amount he had received for the rifle.

Then on July 2, Thomas, Covington and Jamel Barnes were playing basketball in Muncie when Hendricks and Balfour arrived. Hendricks is about 6 feet tall and had styled his hair in dreadlocks. The group of five left the basketball game in Barnes’ car and headed to C.O. and S.J.’s house to buy marijuana, but the conversation turned to robbing C.O.

Later that night, two armed men wearing hooded jackets entered S.J. and C.O.’s house. One of the men was about 6 feet tall and had dreadlocks, and S.J. and Thomas later identified Hendricks as one of the intruders, with Balfour as his companion.

S.J., Thomas and Covington all heard a gunshot, and Hendricks and Balfour left in Barnes’ car. S.J. had gone into hiding, and when he emerged, he found C.O. nonresponsive and bleeding from a gunshot wound. C.O. was later pronounced dead from a gunshot wound to the back.

It wasn’t until two years later that Hendricks was charged with C.O.’s murder, as well as a charge of conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in serious bodily injury. Then in 2019, Hendricks had three recorded calls with Balfour, speaking about other people in code, discussing how to keep people “on the team” and discussing an unidentified task that “ain’t got to be explained.”

During trial, the state presented testimony from Brionna Covington, a cousin to Darius Covington, who said Balfour had told her he was involved in the shooting. Hendricks was eventually found guilty as charged in 2019 and was sentenced to an aggregate 55 years.

Brionna’s statement was admitted over Hendricks’ objection, but the Court of Appeals upheld its admission on Thursday. Although the statement violated Indiana Evidence Rule 804(b)(3), Senior Judge John Sharpnack wrote that the erroneous admission did not violate Hendricks’ substantial rights.

“Balfour’s statement to Brionna incriminated Hendricks only by implication, not directly,” Sharpnack wrote. “Further, at trial Barnes described other statements by Balfour that put him (and by implication, Hendricks) in an incriminating light … . Finally, other witnesses identified Hendricks as one of the armed intruders who entered the house. The admission of Brionna’s statement was harmless error that does not require reversal.”

Hendricks also challenged the admission of his recorded jail calls with Balfour where they discussed getting people “on the team,” saying the calls were irrelevant, unfairly prejudicial and hearsay, and that they violated his right to confront witnesses. The COA, however, disagreed.

“Hendricks and Balfour’s discussions are relevant because, during trial, the State confronted several witnesses who had given statements to the police but later presented a different version of events,” Sharpnack wrote. “… The recordings of the video calls are relevant to prove Hendricks’ guilt because they establish he and Balfour were attempting to conceal their crimes.”

As to Hendricks’ constitutional argument, Sharpnack wrote that “the trial court instructed the jury that Balfour’s statements in the recordings were not to be considered for the truth of the matter asserted. As a result, the statements were not hearsay, and admission of the recordings did not violate the Confrontation Clause.”

The COA panel also rejected Hendricks’ sufficiency-of-the-evidence argument, finding “ample evidence that Hendricks, as a principal or an accomplice, knowingly or intentionally attempted to rob C.O. and S.J., and C.O. was fatally shot during the commission of the armed robbery.” However, the conspiracy conviction was vacated on double jeopardy grounds.

“To be sure, with respect to the charge of conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, the State had identified several overt acts that could have occurred well in advance of Hendricks’ arrival at C.O. and S.J.’s house … ,” Sharpnack wrote. “But at trial, the State did not present any evidence demonstrating when Hendricks obtained his firearm or if Hendricks or any of his companions contacted C.O. or S.J. prior to the group’s arrival at the house at 10:30 p.m. Further, the evidence presented at trial indicated that the group in Barnes’ car did not decide to rob C.O. until they were already en route to the house.

“Instead, the facts as presented at trial focused on Hendricks and his companions’ acts upon arriving at the house, and a key element of the conspiracy offense — serious bodily injury to C.O. — occurred at the same time as the murder in the felony murder charge,” the senior judge continued. “Under these facts, we conclude that Hendricks’ criminal acts were a single transaction not subject to multiple punishments.”

On remand, the Delaware Circuit Court was ordered to vacate Hendricks’ conspiracy conviction, though that action will not alter his aggregate sentence because his sentences were imposed concurrently.

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