Murder conviction COA vacated over attorney juror’s misconduct reinstated

Indiana Supreme Court justices affirmed Wednesday that a Vanderburgh County man who murdered his wife was not harmed when an attorney juror in his trial committed gross misconduct. The high court reinstated the man’s convictions that had been vacated by the Indiana Court of Appeals over the attorney’s misconduct in providing a misleading answer on a jury questionnaire.

Clinton Loehrlein was convicted of murder in the January 2017 slaying of his wife, Sherry Loehrlein, two counts of Level 1 felony attempted murder for attacking his daughters, two counts of Level 3 felony aggravated battery and one count of Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement. He was sentenced in March 2019 to 150 years in prison.

Loehrlein, whose defense team unsuccessfully pursued an insanity defense, said after the attack that he “wanted to kill his family so that they would go to heaven, then kill himself so he could join them.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals vacated Loehrlein’s conviction on the basis of juror misconduct by the jury forewoman, whom the appellate panel identified as L.W. She gave a false answer on a jury questionnaire that came to the attention of Loehrlein’s defense attorneys after his conviction. Specifically, she answered “N/A” instead of “Yes” to questions concerning whether she, immediate family members or close friends had been charged or convicted with a crime.

A divided COA remanded for a new trial on that issue, and the Indiana Supreme Court granted petition to transfer, affirming the trial court’s decision in Clinton Loehrlein v. State of Indiana, 20S-CR-376.

Justices first noted that L.W. committed gross misconduct, and her actions were even more egregious “because she is an attorney who had previously handled some criminal matters and as such, she should have known better.”

“Perhaps we would be in a different position had she not been an attorney or even if she was more open and honest during her post-trial deposition. She was not though. Because her answers on the jury questionnaire were cryptic and her demeanor during her post trial deposition was defensive and evasive, we find that her misconduct was gross,” Judge Steven David wrote for the unanimous high court.

Although the justices concluded that L.W. did commit gross misconduct, given the facts and circumstances of the case, including the strong evidence of Loehrlein’s sanity, it was not likely he was harmed.

“We would perhaps be in a different situation if the evidence were closer regarding Loehrlein’s sanity or if the issue to be determined at trial was whether he harmed his family. But as it stands, it is not likely L.W.’s misconduct harmed Loehrlein at trial because L.W.’s prior personal experience with domestic violence is not directly related to a sanity inquiry and further, she testified that she was impartial,” the high court wrote.

“The trial court, having heard the evidence in a post-trial hearing and after presiding over the trial and voir dire denied Loehrlein’s request for a new trial based on juror misconduct. Given the facts and circumstances of this case, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because while L.W. committed gross misconduct, Loehrlein has not demonstrated that this misconduct probably harmed him,” it concluded.

L.W. is Newburgh attorney Lisa Watson, revealed through a wrongful-termination lawsuit she filed against the state in May, Lisa Watson v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 82C01-2005-CT-001957. Watson claims in the suit that she was fired from her job as a DCS staff attorney due to “claims against Plaintiff as a member of the jury alleging that Plaintiff ‘lied’ on her jury questionnaire … .

“On or about February 21, 2020, the Indiana Court of Appeals granted the above criminal defendant’s appeal and ordered that a new trial is to be held in the matter …,” Watson’s suit says. “On February 26, 2020, Plaintiff was terminated from her employment … for alleged ‘unprofessional behavior’ while serving on the aforementioned jury.”

Watson, the suit claims, “was terminated for her service on a jury in violation of Indiana Code 35-44.1-2-11 and Indiana Common Law.” The suit seeks her reinstatement at DCS, back wages, compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees and costs.

The DCS’s motion to dismiss Watson’s lawsuit is pending before special judge Robert Kreig in Vanderburgh Circuit Court, according to online court records. According to the Indiana Roll of Attorneys, Watson was admitted to practice in Indiana in 1999 and has no prior or pending disciplinary history.

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