Justices to consider ‘de facto life sentence’ against teen convicted of murder

Indiana Supreme Court justices will consider arguments this week in a teen murder case involving a question of whether the boy was denied the effective assistance of counsel such that he should receive a rehearing on his 181-year sentence.

In Donnell Wilson v. State of Indiana, 19S-PC-548, Donnell Wilson was convicted of two counts of murder and other crimes committed when he was 16 years old. Wilson was sentenced to 183 years, which was later reduced to 181 years on direct appeal.

The Lake Superior Court denied Wilson’s petition for post-conviction relief on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in June and remanded for a new sentencing hearing. The appellate court concluded Wilson had received ineffective assistance of counsel because his sentence was de facto life without parole and his sentencing hearing did not comply with Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), finding the mere acknowledgement of a defendant’s youth was not enough to satisfy Miller.

“… (A)nd while counsel mentions Wilson’s youth, there was absolutely no argument or evidence regarding the significance of youth and its attendant characteristics, much less Wilson’s particular characteristics,” Judge John Baker wrote in the appellate court’s decision.  

Members of the Supreme Court granted the state’s subsequent petition to transfer, agreeing to hear argument in the case at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, the justices will hear Bryce A. Burton v. Martin Benner and Indiana State Police, 19S-CT-549, a motorcycle crash case, at 9 a.m., and Paul Michael Wilkes v. Celadon Group, Inc., et al., 19S-CT-564, a negligence case, at 10:30 a.m.

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