Convictions upheld for man in Allen Co. drug robbery gone wrong

A man involved in a robbery-turned-murder will keep his related convictions despite his arguments against a traffic stop and the jury instructions in his case, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled.

In February 2020, Meng Kem opened his door to find his friend and former roommate, Kyaw Hlang, outside. Kem welcomed Hlang in after the latter indicated he wanted to talk.

Two additional men, who wore bandanas over their faces, also entered. Hlang and one of the other men, Jamesley Paul, ordered Kem and two others in the room, Mon Ong and Brooke Wendel, to get on the floor.

After asking Kem where he kept his money, Hlang fatally shot Wendel in the head while one of the masked men fatally shot Ong in the chest.

Kem was shot in the neck but survived and reported to police that Hlang was one of the assailants. He gave partial descriptions of the other two men, as well as an address that he thought was associated with Hlang.

An officer dispatched to the residence conducted a traffic stop of a “suspicious” vehicle and found Paul and another man suspected of being the third shooter in the vehicle. A search revealed drugs and a 9 mm handgun holster in the glove compartment, but Paul was released at the scene.

Another traffic stop, this time involving Hlang, was conducted the following morning outside the house, during which a 9 mm handgun was found in the car.

Hlang admitted to police that he had been with Paul at the time of the crimes and entered into a plea agreement. Paul later confessed to being at the crime, stating that he had intended to purchase cannabis and that he ran away when “everything went wrong.”

Paul was charged with two counts of murder, two counts of felony murder and one count of Level 5 felony attempted robbery, and the state alleged he used a firearm during the commission of the offenses.

A jury convicted Paul of all counts except the second count of murder and found that he had used a firearm in the commission of the offenses. The Allen Superior Court sentenced him to an aggregate of 146 years.

On appeal, Paul moved to exclude any testimony or evidence that he was in the car stopped by police, arguing that the traffic stop was not based on reasonable suspicion and that he was subjected to an illegal search and seizure. He also challenged the trial court’s jury instructions pertaining to accomplice liability.

But the Court of Appeals affirmed in full in Jamesley Paul v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-1704, finding first that the traffic stop did not violate either the federal or state constitutions and, therefore, the admission of any evidence resulting from the stop was not error.

The COA determined that under the facts presented, the officer had reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment to stop the vehicle in which Paul was riding based on the location and the vehicle’s evasive behavior. It found similarly that the trial court didn’t err in admitting evidence stemming from the stop under the Indiana Constitution.

Paul also argued that the jury instructions were confusing because, although the charges required proof of accomplice liability, none of the instructions defined “‘acting in concert’” or explained the mens rea that applied to “‘acting in concert[.]’”

“Paul’s briefing, however, does not address the question of waiver or the doctrine of fundamental error,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote.

“Paul has waived the issue by failing to object. We find, also, that the use of the jury instructions did not constitute fundamental error,” Tavitas wrote. “Fundamental error occurs only when the error ‘makes a fair trial impossible or constitutes clearly blatant violations of basic and elementary principles of due process presenting an undeniable and substantial potential for harm.’ Strack v. State, 186 N.E.3d 99, 103 (Ind. 2022). Paul cannot show that fundamental error resulted from the instructions given here.

“The instructions, when taken as a whole rather than in isolation, contain the pertinent language regarding accomplice liability to instruct the jury. Furthermore, the jury was afforded ample opportunities to ask questions about the instructions,” Tavitas continued. “Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court did not err in issuing the jury instructions.”

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