Justices partially grant petition for rehearing in teen’s murder case, remove prejudice analysis

The Indiana Supreme Court has altered an October opinion reinstating a murder conviction against a defendant convicted as a teen of killing a toddler, granting rehearing to delete its prejudice analysis. The core holding of the opinion, however, remains unchanged.

Tyre Bradbury, at center stage in the case, was 15 years old when his 19-year-old friend Robert Griffin shot and killed a toddler while firing at a rival in a 2014 gang dispute. Bradbury, who had provided the gun to Griffin, was later charged as an adult with murder as Griffin’s accomplice.

Bradbury was one of multiple people convicted in the shooting linked to a gang fight, and the jury found Bradbury had gang ties, enhancing his sentence.

He ultimately was sentenced to 60 years in prison, but a split Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the denial of his post-conviction relief petition. The appellate majority questioned if Bradbury’s trial counsel was ineffective in stipulating as to Griffin’s murder conviction, or in failing to request a jury instruction on the lesser-included offense of reckless homicide.

Indiana Supreme Court justices disagreed on what to do in the case, ultimately reinstating Bradbury’s conviction in a 3-2 split.

Justice Christopher Goff, joined by Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, dissented from the majority’s conclusion on counsel’s failure to request a lesser-included instruction.

Justice Mark Massa, writing separately in a concurrence and joined by Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, noted Bradbury’s counsel was “extraordinarily effective” in persuading the trial court to heighten the prosecution’s burden, allowing him to pursue a reasonable and permissible all-or-nothing trial strategy.

In November 2021, Bradbury petitioned for rehearing, questioning whether the Supreme Court majority’s Strickland prejudice analysis conflicted with Strickland. The rehearing petition also questioned whether the majority’s acknowledgment that “[t]endering the lesser included instruction would have given the jury another option to convict Bradbury” demonstrated that Bradbury’s trial counsel performed deficiently under Strickland.

Finally, Bradbury questioned whether the majority’s finding that his trial counsel’s failure to present to the jury a police recording of L.B., Griffin’s rival, telling his mother mere hours after the shooting that Bradbury had opposed the shooting was a matter of “trial strategy” conflicted with the facts of record.

The high court granted rehearing in part to modify its original majority opinion in Tyre Bradbury v. State of Indiana, 21S-PC-441.

Specifically, the majority justices struck language from its original opinion finding no prejudice. The deleted language said:

“Tendering the lesser included instruction would have given the jury another option to convict Bradbury. As the State correctly notes, Bradbury was unlikely to be acquitted of a lesser charge in light of the evidence that the shooting was not just reckless, but intentional, as well as Bradbury’s own repeated admissions of responsibility. As such, he was not prejudiced by counsel not seeking a lesser included instruction.”

Instead, the court added new language holding, “Accordingly, because we find that Bradbury’s counsel’s performance was not deficient, we decline to address the prejudice prong under Strickland. See Williams v. State, 706 N.E.2d 149, 154 (Ind. 1999) (‘To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, one must show both deficient performance and resulting prejudice’) (emphasis added); French v. State, 778 N.E.2d 816, 824 (Ind. 2002) (‘Failure to satisfy either prong will cause the claim to fail.’).”

Goff also modified his dissenting opinion, striking language attributed to the court and instead citing the state.

“In arguing that Bradbury wasn’t prejudiced by counsel’s failure to request a lesser-included instruction, the State cites ‘Bradbury’s admissions of involvement in the shooting’ and points to ‘evidence that ‘the shooting was not just merely reckless’, but intentional.’ ’ ”

He further altered his dissent to say:

“Still, the State insists that, given Bradbury’s ‘repeated admissions of responsibility, a jury would have had little difficulty finding him guilty of a lesser offense’ and he ‘still may have received a significant sentence because he was also facing a criminal gang enhancement.’ … But it’s no answer to suggest ‘that a defendant may be better off without [a lesser-included] instruction.’ 

“… But if given the option to convict on a lesser-included offense with a substantially reduced sentence (even with a criminal gang enhancement), the jury may well have chosen that option,” the modified dissent continues. “The State’s suggestion also conflicts with the ‘basic notion that juveniles are different from adults when it comes to sentencing and are generally less deserving of the harshest punishments.’”

Finally, the high court addressed a few typographical errors on page 5 of the slip opinion.

All justices concurred except Rush and Goff, who voted to grant rehearing in full.

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