Man convicted of rape not denied an impartial jury, COA rules

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a Hancock County man’s conviction for felony rape, finding he was not denied an impartial jury, among other things.

In the case of Hayden J. Nix v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-521, Hayden Nix was convicted of Level 3 felony rape and sentenced to 16 years behind bars, with three years suspended to probation.

Nix, who was represented by private counsel, asked the Hancock Superior Court for public funds to aid in the costs of obtaining a “mitigation specialist” to assist with his arguments at sentencing. The trial court denied his request, but Nix was still able to hire a mitigation specialist who testified, among other things, that Nix suffered from “fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.”

During closing arguments at Nix’s sentencing hearing, the state argued that “at no point in time during the trial did the [S]tate elicit any information with regard to [his prior convictions],” nor at any point during voir dire. But Nix’s counsel noted that after the trial, the jury foreperson said, “I know about his prior cases. He’s already proven himself to be a piece of sh[*]t.” Nix’s counsel also pointed to concurrences from other jurors who said they too had read in the news about Nix’s other cases.

The trial court, however, did not find Nix’s evidence or arguments persuasive and sentenced him accordingly. The appellate court likewise upheld Nix’s conviction.

In affirming the trial court, the appellate panel first rejected Nix’s arguments that he was denied an impartial jury and his related argument that he should have received a change of venue.

“There are a number of flaws with Nix’s argument. First, the premise of his argument — his own counsel’s statement to the court at the close of sentencing —  is not evidence, and Nix cites no other portion of the record to demonstrate any apparent bias in a juror from his trial,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the appellate court.

“Indeed, Nix did not respond to the jury foreperson’s purported disclosure after the trial by immediately informing the court and calling the jurors to question them and make a record. Rather, he waited several months to make a passing comment about it at the close of the sentencing hearing, and he uses that passing comment on appeal to engage in speculation about what it might mean,” the appellate court wrote.

The panel concluded that given Nix’s arguments were nothing more than speculation, he did not show that a fair trial was impossible. It therefore declined his invitation to consider his fundamental error argument or arguments regarding jury impartiality.

The panel likewise found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Nix’s motion for a change of venue, noting Nix accepted the jury.

Further, the appellate court rejected Nix’s argument that the testimony of certain witnesses was “drumbeat repetition” used by the state to vouch for the victim’s credibility, finding no fundamental error.

Lastly, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Nix’s motion for funds to hire a mitigation specialist.

“The trial court denied Nix’s motion on the ground that he apparently had access to funds to obtain private counsel and therefore could cover his own costs for a mitigation specialist,” Najam wrote. “Nix’s argument on appeal is simply a request for this Court to reassess the facts and circumstances that were before the trial court, which we will not do.”

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