Despite allegations of prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments, a man convicted of murder could not convince the Court of Appeals of Indiana to grant him a new trial.
In Fredrick David Craft v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-2004, a shooting took place in an open Gary parking lot in September 2020 that left one person dead outside of an entertainment venue. Officers on the scene testified that Frederick Craft, who was wearing a bulletproof vest during the incident, was shooting from one corner of the parking lot and moving toward the middle of the lot.
One officer testified that after a man was shot during the commotion, he yelled for Craft to drop his weapon. Craft allegedly turned his fire on the officer instead, hiding behind a parked vehicle.
During this exchange of gunfire, the officer said he believed he shot Craft.
More than 100 bullet casings were later found at the scene, as well as two guns in a nearby alley. Three guns were also found in Craft’s locked vehicle on the property, including a 9 millimeter Glock handgun with an extended double-barrel magazine, which allegedly fired 85 of the casings.
During Craft’s trial for murder and attempted murder, Craft objected several times during the state’s closing arguments, claiming there was no basis in the evidence for several of the state’s arguments. Although the Lake Superior Court cautioned the state, those “questionable” arguments continued.
By the end of the trial, the trial court had twice denied Craft’s request for a mistrial.
The jury ultimately found Craft guilty of both crimes, and he was sentenced to 55 years.
On appeal, the appellate court noted that even though Craft failed to seek an admonishment, the issue of prosecutorial misconduct was properly preserved for appellate review.
However, it concluded that assuming, arguendo, that the prosecutor’s statements in closing cumulatively amounted to misconduct, Craft failed to prove the statements placed him in grave peril.
“Given the evidence against Craft, the probable persuasive effect of the prosecutor’s statements was minimal,” Judge Leanna Weissmann wrote. “The State was required to prove that Craft knowingly or intentionally killed (Kevin) Blackmon. … Officer (Martin) Garza’s testimony that he watched Craft shoot Blackmon satisfied that burden.”
The COA also pointed to evidence that Craft owned the gun that fired most of the bullets during the shooting — including video evidence showing the gun was previously in his possession and testimony that the gun was recovered from Craft’s car, as well as evidence that he wore a bulletproof vest in anticipation of a shooting.
“The State’s allegedly improper arguments — inventing an explanation for how the murder weapon went from Craft’s hand to his car and maligning Craft’s character — fail to tip the scales towards grave peril,” Weissmann wrote.
Lastly, the COA noted that despite Craft’s complaints of the proximity of the allegedly improper statements to jury deliberations, the jury instructions specifically included explanations of the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt, as well as a reminder that statements made by attorneys are not evidence.
“Altogether, we cannot say that the alleged misconduct was so persuasive as to place Craft in grave peril to which he should not have been subjected,” Weissmann concluded. “Craft has failed to meet his burden for reversal.”