High court to hear arguments in LWOP case for teen convicted of killing brother

A man convicted as a teen of killing his 10-year-old brother is headed back to the Indiana Supreme Court, this time on the state’s appeal of an order for a new sentencing hearing in the life-without-parole case.

The high court last week granted transfer to Andrew Conley v. State of Indiana, 21S-PC-256. The justices will hear arguments after the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a new sentencing hearing for defendant Andrew Conley.

Conley at 17 killed his 10-year-old brother Conner in November 2009, telling police that during a wrestling match he started strangling his brother and “could not stop himself … .” Conley pleaded guilty in Ohio County and was sentenced to life without parole.

The Indiana Supreme Court split in upholding Conley’s LWOP sentence in 2012. He then petitioned for post-conviction relief, which the trial court denied in December 2019.

But the Court of Appeals in February 2021 partially granted Conley’s petition, remanding for a new sentencing hearing in the Ohio Circuit Court. The panel unanimously found that Conley’s trial counsel was “wholly deficient” at sentencing by failing to fully investigate and present mitigating evidence and failing to properly challenge the state’s expert witness and prepare the defense’s expert witness.

“A reasonable probability exists that, but for defense counsel’s errors, the proceedings at the trial level would have resulted in the imposition of less than the maximum LWOP sentence especially in light of the substantial mitigating factors: Conley’s age, the fact that Conley did not have a juvenile or criminal record, and Conley’s undisputed significant, severe mental health issues. … Accordingly, we conclude that the PC Court clearly erred by rejecting Conley’s ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote in February.

Oral arguments in Conley have not yet been scheduled.

The justices unanimously denied transfer to eight other cases for the week ending May 21. The full list of transfer decisions is available online.

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