Lawyer’s lie on jury questionnaire prompts retrial in murder case

A lawyer who lied about her criminal history on a jury questionnaire in a murder case has divided an Indiana Court of Appeals panel, which ultimately vacated the murderer’s case for a retrial.

Clinton Loehrlein was sentenced to 150 years in prison after a Vanderburgh County jury found him guilty of murder in the January 2017 slaying of his wife, Sherry Loehrlein, two counts of Level 1 attempted murder against his daughters, two counts of Level 3 felony aggravated battery and Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement.

Following the attack, Loehrlein said he “wanted to kill his family so that they would go to heaven, then kill himself so he could join them.” Loehrlein had filed a notice of an insanity defense.

After the jury 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 the 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 was charged in 2012 with domestic battery against her husband.

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. 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 which 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.

When the Vanderburgh Superior Court denied Loehrlein’s post-verdict motion for a new trial, he appealed, arguing the trial court erred by denying the motion based on juror misconduct. Loehrlein asserted in Clinton Loehrlein v. State of Indiana,19A-CR-737, that had he known of the charge against L.W. and her prior experiences of being a victim of domestic violence, he would have moved to have her dismissed from the jury.

The case split an Indiana Court of Appeals panel Friday, with the majority finding 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.

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