Delphi woman’s murder conviction upheld by COA

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A Delphi woman who was involved in the murder of her lover’s other lover will keep her decades-long sentence despite her double jeopardy arguments, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has affirmed.

In March 2019, Ashley Garth was in an intimate relationship with Garett Kirts. Kirts had also been intimately involved with another woman, Nicole Bowen, for a few months.

During a two-month span, Garth, Kirts and friend Jason Palladino talked about “getting rid” of Bowen. Then on March 29, 2019, Kirts, Bowen, and another woman, Talitha Beckley, were at Palladino’s house when Kirts drove them all to a trailer where Garth was located.

At the trailer, Bowen and Garth began arguing, which escalated to a fistfight. Kirts then grabbed Bowen into a chokehold until she collapsed. Kirts told Garth to hand him an extension cord, which she did, and Kirts proceeded to tie the cord around Bowen’s neck. He handed it back to Garth who pulled tightly on the cord.

Kirts then wrapped a scarf around Bowen’s neck and taped her into a trash bag. He then dumped her body into an empty semitrailer after driving around.

An autopsy indicated that the cause of death was neck compression and ligature strangulation, and DNA testing indicated strong support for the proposition that Garth was a contributor to the DNA profile found on Bowen’s finger nail scrapings and on a cardboard tube with Bowen’s body.

Garth was ultimately convicted of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and assisting a criminal. She received concurrent terms of 48 years for her murder conviction, 30 years for her conspiracy conviction, and three years for her assisting a criminal conviction.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed in Ashley N. Garth v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-1415, first concluding that the Newton Superior Court did not abuse its discretion in ruling on the admissibility of certain evidence.

As to the letter written by Kirts to Garth while they were incarcerated, the COA found that Garth’s focus on Kirts’ memory of writing the letter was misplaced. It concluded “it is not the letter itself, but the subject matter of the letter that is the relevant focus for purposes of Evidence Rule 803(5).” The appellate court also noted that the letter was written weeks or months after Bowen’s murder.

“Garth does not direct us to any testimony that Kirts did not recall his motive. In fact, Kirts testified in detail about the murder, and therefore his letter is not admissible as a recorded recollection,” Judge Terry Crone wrote.

Turning to Exhibit 44, the videotaped interview of Garth by police, the COA found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s replaying of the video of Garth due to audio troubles.

“Here, the trial court took appropriate steps when it was informed that the jurors could not hear the video properly. Before replaying the video, the trial court clearly instructed the jurors, not once, but twice, that it was replaying the video because they needed to be able to hear it and that the court was not emphasizing the evidence,” it wrote.

Finally, it found that Garth waived her argument that the trial court committed reversible error by admitting Exhibit 56, Beckley’s videotaped police interview.

Waiver notwithstanding, it concluded that Garth’s argument that the admission of Exhibit 56 constitutes reversible error was unconvincing. However, it found that Beckley’s comments rendered Exhibit 56 inadmissible under Evidence Rule 804(b)(3) but that the error was ultimately harmless.

Additionally, the COA found no abuse of discretion in the denial of Garth’s motion for mistrial. It concluded that the trial court found no ill intent on behalf of the prosecutor and that he did not violate his duty of candor to the tribunal by waiting until publication was complete before informing the court of Beckley’s arrival during the hearing.

“Furthermore, the remedial measures the trial court took under these unusual circumstances, by allowing Garth to present Beckley’s live testimony over the State’s objection, preserved Garth’s right to a fair trial,” it wrote.

Finally, the COA concluded that Garth’s convictions and sentence was supported by sufficient evidence and that her convictions do not violate double jeopardy.

“We conclude that the murder and conspiracy statutes allow for multiple punishments, and consequently Garth’s convictions do not violate double jeopardy,” it wrote. “Based on the foregoing, we affirm Garth’s convictions.”

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