Justices uphold life without parole in toddler’s brutalization, murder

A man’s sentence to life in prison without parole in the murder of an 18-month-old whose body bore the marks of torture and sexual abuse has been affirmed on direct appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Justices on Thursday unanimously upheld the sentence imposed on Dylan Thomas Tate upon the recommendation of the Madison Circuit jury that convicted him of murder, Level 1 felony counts of child molesting and neglect of a dependent resulting in death, and Level 6 felony operating a vehicle with a passenger less than 18 years old.

Tate was driving while intoxicated with 18-month-old H.H. in the car in February 2018 when he crashed and the toddler was fatally wounded. Though Tate rushed the child to the hospital, he wasn’t breathing and was bruised all over his body. The child was treated, briefly revived, but was declared brain dead two days later. The cause of death was determined to be multiple blunt-force trauma with traumatic brain injury.

But doctors and nurses testified the boy’s injuries, including burns and bruises all over his body, signs of sexual abuse — even torture — and more were not the result of a car crash.

“There are two issues here,” Justice Geoffrey Slaughter wrote for the unanimous court. “The first is whether the trial court committed fundamental error during the guilt phase by admitting certain testimony. We hold that Tate showed no error, let alone fundamental error.

“The second issue is whether the State introduced enough evidence during sentencing to support the torture and child-molest aggravators,” Slaughter continued. “We find sufficient evidence supporting these two aggravators and reject Tate’s invitation to reweigh the evidence. We hold that any error was harmless and that the remaining, undisputed aggravator outweighed any mitigators. Thus, we affirm his convictions and sentence.”

Tate could prove no error under the character evidence rule 404(a)(1) in testimony from police or medical professionals, nor could he demonstrate medical evidence violated the expert witness rule of evidence, 702(b). Justices also concluded that jurors did not rely on improper aggravators or give weight to his proffered mitigator of intoxication, finding the murder-of-a-child aggravator outweighed any mitigating circumstance.

“The State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Tate killed H.H., an eighteen-month-old child. Given the overwhelming evidence that Tate’s intoxication was voluntary and that he was thinking clearly enough to try covering up his crimes, we give the intoxication mitigator little weight. But even according it full weight would not change the outcome,” Slaughter wrote.

“… The record contains substantial evidence of both the torture and child-molest aggravators on which the jury could reasonably rely. Excluding the torture and child-molest aggravators would not have altered the jury’s recommendation or the trial court’s decision. And the murder-of-a-child aggravator, proved beyond a reasonable doubt, outweighs Tate’s intoxication. Thus, we decline to grant Tate relief based on his challenged aggravators.”

The case is Dylan Thomas Tate v. State of Indiana19S-LW-444.

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