Justices reverse grant of transfer in teen murder case following oral arguments

Just hours after hearing oral arguments on the merits in a murder case from 2000, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed its decision to assume jurisdiction over the case.

Justices originally granted a petition to transfer in Damian Justin Harris v. State of Indiana, 19S-PC-00529, in September, agreeing to hear his argument that the Indiana Court of Appeals departed from state and federal precedent when it found that he was not prejudiced by his trial counsel’s failure to present mitigating evidence of his adolescent brain damage, abusive home life and resulting psychological damage.

Harris was convicted of murder in 2000, when he was 15 years old, after fatally shooting a convenience store clerk during a physical struggle following a failed robbery attempt. He was initially sentenced to 65 years, and the same sentence was imposed on remand, which the COA affirmed. Harris’ subsequent petition for post-conviction relief was denied by the Allen Superior Court, which the COA also affirmed in July.

Oral arguments were held in the case Thursday morning, and by the afternoon, the divided justices had made their decision.

“After further review, including consideration of the points presented by counsel at oral argument and discussion among the Justices in conference after the oral argument, the Court has determined that it should not assume jurisdiction over this appeal and that the Court of Appeals opinion reported as Harris v. State, 131 N.E.3d 195 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019), should be reinstated as Court of Appeals precedent,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote on behalf of a divided high court. 

Both the chief and Justice Christopher Goff dissented from the denial of transfer.

Thus, the grant of transfer was vacated and transfer was denied.

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