Justices clear Putnam County prosecutor in discipline case

The Indiana Supreme Court has cleared the Putnam County prosecutor of alleged misconduct in an ethics case that accused him of failing to disclose a deal eliciting testimony from a reluctant witness who claimed he later was wrongly identified, placing him in danger behind bars as a “snitch.”

Bookwalter

Justices issued a published order late Thursday in favor of Putnam County Prosecutor Timothy L. Bookwalter. “(T)he Court finds that Respondent did not engage in professional misconduct and enters judgment for Respondent,” reads the order signed by Chief Justice Loretta Rush.

The high court adopted the recommendation of the hearing officer in Bookwalter’s case, Senior Judge Daniel Vanderpool, whose report issued Dec. 29 urged no discipline for Bookwalter. The Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission accused Bookwalter of alleged misconduct in October 2019, claiming he violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 3.8(d). The rule regulates a prosecutor’s duty to disclose to the defense “all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused” as well as “all unprivileged mitigating information known to the prosecutor.”

The discipline complaint arose from a case Bookwalter was prosecuting in Putnam County — an April 2017 home invasion in which an elderly couple was brutalized and robbed. The husband suffered a significant brain injury after being struck on the head with a gun.

One of the suspects was interviewed by a deputy seeking his testimony. The deputy offered to help the suspect with his other charges in Parke County and assured the suspect his name would not come up. However, this arrangement was not communicated to Bookwalter, who identified the suspect in charging documents in the Putnam County home invasion.

Vanderpool noted in his hearing officer’s report that upon discovering the problem, Bookwalter “then set out on a course of conduct to try to accomplish what he believed to be consistent with the representations” the deputy made to the suspect.

The defense, however, never was informed of the deal made for the suspect’s testimony, but Vanderpool noted the defense, like the prosecutor, would have known about the deal had the video of the deputy’s jailhouse interview with the suspect been reviewed.

“The way the issue developed, the underlying uncertainty of what constituted a ‘deal’ to be reported, and the complexity of how the issue unfolded in the midst of trial (as well as judging the demeanor of the Respondent at the hearing) convince this Officer that the Respondent did not act intentionally dishonorably,” Vanderpool wrote.

In resolving the matter in favor of Bookwalter, the justices wrote, “The hearing officer concluded the Commission failed to meet its burden of proving the charged violation, and the Commission has not filed a petition seeking our review. … Accordingly, we adopt and incorporate by reference the hearing officer’s findings of fact, and on those findings we likewise conclude that the Commission has failed to prove the charged rule violation. The Court therefore finds that the allegation of misconduct was not proven and enters judgment for Respondent. The hearing officer appointed in this case is discharged with the Court’s appreciation.”

Vanderpool also urged the court in his report to clarify prosecutorial duties regarding deals for testimony, but the justices made no reference to that in the one-page order vindicating Bookwalter.

The case is In the Matter of Timothy Bookwalter, 19S-DI-574.

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