Justices to hear arguments in juvenile murder case

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The Indiana Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Thursday in a decades-old murder case considering whether the defendant was prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to present mitigating evidence about his mental illness at the time of the crime.

At age 15, Damian Harris was convicted of felony murder and attempted robbery after he fatally shot a convenience store clerk in February 2000 following a failed attempt to rob the store.

The Allen Superior Court imposed a maximum 65-year sentence, but the Indiana Court of Appeals remanded for resentencing on the finding that the trial court had erroneously cited an improper aggravating circumstance. The appellate court also concluded the trial court had erroneously enhanced Harris’ sentence by citing aggravating factors that had not been submitted to the jury or admitted by Harris in violation of Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 124 S. Ct. 2531, 159 L. Ed. 2d 403 (2004).

On remand, however, the trial court again imposed a 65-year sentence, and the appellate court this time affirmed. Harris’ subsequent petition for post-conviction relief was denied by the trial court, which the appellate court also affirmed in July. 

Supreme Court justices agreed to hear Harris’ case and assumed jurisdiction in Damian Justin Harris v. State of Indiana, 19S-PC-00529. The case will be heard Thursday at 9:45 a.m.

Harris contends in his petition to transfer that the appellate court departed from state and federal precedent when it found Harris was not prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to present mitigating evidence of his adolescent brain damage, abusive home life and resulting psychological damage. He also argues the appellate court departed from Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B) precedent when it found Harris was not entitled to a lesser sentence, requesting a revised sentence from the high court.

Also on Thursday, the justices will hear Dean R. Blair and Paula K. Blair v. EMC Mortgage, LLC, 19S-MF-00530, a mortgage foreclosure case, at 9 a.m., and Derek Heuring v. State of Indiana, 19S-CR-00528, a suppression case, at 10:30 a.m.

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