Detective’s false testimony won’t lead to vacated conviction, COA rules

A man convicted of obstruction of justice following the murder of his stepmom did not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that his conviction should be vacated based on a detective’s false testimony.

After his stepmother was found dead near a walking trail in Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park and his father confessed to her murder, Robert Moore was arrested and brought in for questioning. He was eventually charged with Level 6 felony obstruction of justice and Class A misdemeanor failure to report a body after making incriminating statements to police describing his efforts to assist his father in disposing of the body.

Moore was only convicted on the obstruction charge, but he later filed a motion to vacate that conviction after his counsel discovered Lawrence Police Det. Theodore Lich had lied on the stand when he said urine found where the victim had died had been tested for DNA.

Moore’s motion was ultimately denied by the Marion Superior Court, and he was sentenced to 1½ years in the Marion County Jail.

Moore appealed in Robert Wayne Moore v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-1125, arguing first that his confession was involuntary because Lich violated Article 1, Section 13 of the Indiana Constitution when he refused to advise Moore of the charges he faced until after he made the incriminating statements.

The Indiana Court of Appeals noted, however, that no authority states that an investigating officer must provide the accused with the information. Instead, the court noted that case law interpreting the relevant provision requires an accused to be sufficiently informed of the crime of which he is charged in writing so that he can prepare a defense.

Additionally, the appellate court rejected Moore’s argument that his confession was involuntary because “detectives lied to [him] about the facts and misrepresented the law” when police told Moore days before his confession that a jury would understand that Moore was helping his father.

“According to Moore, Sergeant (James) Vaughn’s statements misrepresented the law by assuring Moore that he had a ‘definitive legal defense[.]’ We disagree and conclude that the sergeant’s statements that a jury would be understanding do not equate to legal advice,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the appellate court.  “Turning to the August 17 interrogation, Detective Lich stated that Moore’s father ‘did confess, but he didn’t say he did it by himself.’ Given the context in which the statement arose – during a discussion of the unreported details of Tina’s death – we cannot agree that Detective Lich’s statement rendered Moore’s confession involuntary.”

The appellate court likewise found that because this was a bench trial, and because the trial court specifically found that Moore’s confession served as the basis for his conviction, Lich’s false testimony regarding DNA testing was not a basis for vacating Moore’s conviction.

“Had this been a jury trial, where we do not make the same assumptions and a jury does not provide a statement about what influenced its decision, Lich’s testimony would have been interpreted differently,” Pyle wrote.

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