Justices to review murder verdict overturned due to lawyer’s lie on jury form

A Vanderburgh County jury’s guilty verdict in a murder case that was overturned on appeal because a lawyer who served as the jury forewoman lied on her jury questionnaire will be reviewed by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Justices last week agreed to hear the state’s appeal in Clinton Loehrlein v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-737.  Clinton Loehrlein of Darmstadt was found guilty of murder in the fatal shooting of his wife, Sherry, and attempted murder for also shooting his adult twin daughters. He also was convicted of two counts of aggravated battery and resisting law enforcement and was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

Loehrlein claimed insanity in the January 2017 attack. He said after the attack he “wanted to kill his family so that they would go to heaven, then kill himself so he could join them.”

After the trial but before sentencing, Loehrlein’s counsel received information that the jury forewoman, L.W., a licensed attorney familiar with the jury process, had provided a false answer under oath on the jury questionnaire regarding her criminal history. The question asked potential jurors, “Have you, any of your immediate family members, or a close friend been charged with or convicted of a crime? If yes, who, when, what & where.” L.W. responded “not applicable,” even though she had been charged in 2012 with domestic battery against her husband at the time.

In September 2018, Loehrlein filed a verified motion to set aside the jury’s verdict and for mistrial based on jury misconduct stemming from the lawyer’s untruthful answers, but Vanderburgh Superior Judge Robert Pigman denied the motion. During her deposition, L.W. initially insisted that she had not been criminally charged and that the question was therefore not applicable, claiming she had “never been charged, never been read rights. I’ve never been convicted.”

When asked a second time if she had been charged with a crime, L.W. answered, “I mean, there was that little case that was false anyway, got dismissed, so it didn’t apply because it was dismissed.”

L.W. ultimately admitted she had been arrested but claimed she was the victim of repeated acts of domestic violence by her ex-husband. When asked if, based on her charging information, she had been charged with domestic battery, L.W. finally stated, “I guess.” She then testified that “she was embarrassed by the charges and was worried about her reputation in the local legal community.”

The attorney also wrote “N/A,” to a question that asked if she, any immediate family members, or a close friend had been a witness or victim in a criminal matter, despite stating that she had been the victim of repeated domestic abuse.

The attorney also wrote “N/A,” to a question that asked if she, any immediate family members, or a close friend had been a witness or victim in a criminal matter, despite stating that she had been the victim of repeated domestic abuse.

Loehrlein’s conviction was overturned in February by a divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals, which remanded for a new trial. The majority found it had “no hesitation in concluding that L.W.’s incorrect, untruthful response to Question 15 amounted to gross misconduct.”

Citing State v. Dye, 784 N.E.2d 469, 472 (Ind. 2003), Judge Paul Mathias, joined by Judge James Kirsch, wrote that “… although L.W.’s conduct does not reach the depths of (Juror Jackie) Gunn’s dishonesty, she would have been aware that she had been charged with a crime, even though that charge was later dismissed, and that her answer of ‘N/A’ was at best incomplete and misleading, and at worst intentionally dishonest.

“L.W.’s answers to the juror questionnaire and her dissembling during her post-trial deposition are especially egregious because she was and is an attorney licensed to practice in this state, with almost twenty years of experience at the time of trial. To the extent that the trial court concluded that L.W.’s behavior did not amount to gross juror misconduct, its decision was clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court,” the majority continued.

Additionally, the majority found L.W.’s untruthful answers deprived Loehrlein of the ability to delve into the attorney’s prior experience with domestic violence. Likewise, the majority found the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion for a new trial, but did not err by refusing Loehrlein’s tendered instruction regarding his insanity defense.

The appellate court therefore reversed Loehrlein’s convictions and remanded for a new trial.

However, Judge L. Mark Bailey, in a separate dissent, was unpersuaded that the trial court abused its discretion by denying Loehrlein’s motion to set aside the verdict.

“(L).W., a practicing attorney, stated at her deposition that the contested issue for the jury was whether Loehrlein had established his insanity defense. (L).W. denied that her domestic violence history affected the insanity determination. Indeed, two appointed mental health experts testified that Loehrlein was sane and his own expert witness described Loehrlein’s thought processes but stopped short of opining that he was insane. Because Loehrlein admitted to the attacks and the jury heard from unified experts, there is no discernible harm from his loss of the opportunity to strike (L).W. as a juror,” Bailey wrote in dissent.

Loehrlein v. State was the lone appeal granted transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court last week. Justices denied 17 other appeals. Among those turned down, the high court:

  • Let stand on a 3-2 vote an obstruction of justice verdict in a bench trial against Robert Wayne Moore despite evidence that a detective investigating the murder of Moore’s stepmother lied on the stand in Moore’s obstruction case. At issue in in Robert Wayne Moore v. State of Indiana19A-CR-1125,  was testimony of a Lawrence police detective who wrongly testified that certain DNA tests that had been conducted in the investigation of Moore’s efforts to assist his father — who was ultimately convicted of his wife’s murder — in disposing of the stepmother’s body. Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Christopher Goff would have granted transfer to hear Moore’s appeal.
  • Unanimously rejected the transfer petition of an Indianapolis mother who unsuccessfully argued on appeal that her felony battery conviction for repeatedly striking her 9-year-old son with an electrical cord violated the doctrine of parental privileges. The court let stand the conviction in Guadalupe Pava v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-716.

All other transfer denials were unanimous. Indiana Supreme Court transfer dispositions may be viewed here.

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