Split appellate panel reverses murder conviction in Gary shooting for insufficient evidence

In a “seldom” reversal of a murder conviction based on insufficient evidence, the Court of Appeals of Indiana split in a Wednesday decision, with the majority concluding the evidence used to support a defendant’s guilt came “nowhere close to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In Marquis David Young v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-2341, Marquis Young was sentenced to 115 years in prison for a murder he claimed he didn’t commit.

The shooting took place in May 2020, not long after Young left a Gary gas station, got into his car and exited the parking lot.

As Young pulled out of the gas station, Dion Clayton, Virgil King and Ajee Spence pulled up to a pump. Shortly thereafter, several gunshots rang out.

Clayton, who was hit, fled the scene and was found dead about two blocks away. King was also struck in the back, but he and Spence drove away with no further injuries.

No eyewitnesses saw a shooter, and police couldn’t identify the shooter from any of three nearby surveillance videos. However, police noticed that a person was in a nearby alley before the shooting and appeared to discard a lit cigarette.

Two days later, police retrieved what they said was the only cigarette in that general area.

When an anonymous tip came through naming Young as a potential suspect, a detective sent the cigarette in for DNA testing. The results were a match to Young’s DNA.

On the night of the shooting, Young allegedly wore a black hooded coat with a white shirt underneath, dark pants, a black stocking cap and white shoes. He had also smoked a cigarette that night.

Footage from the gas station showed the lower half of the shooter’s body, wearing dark pants and white shoes. Footage captured by an infrared camera at another location showed a person in the alley wearing white or light-colored shoes and a white or light-colored hat or do-rag.

No gun was found at the scene, but a detective noted that the 23 casings came from a .40 caliber weapon. However, the detective acknowledged “there are other manufacturers that have that type of firing pin.”

Evidence from Young’s phone showed his Google location data was turned off the day of the shooting and the day after. It also revealed that Young had searched YouTube videos for how to clean and disassemble a Glock .40 caliber “in the week or two following the shooting on May 3rd.”

Young was ultimately charged and convicted by a jury of murder and two counts of attempted murder.

But in a Wednesday reversal, the appellate majority concluded the state’s evidence fell short of the “substantial evidence of probative value” — circumstantial or not — required to support the verdict.

The majority said the case was distinguishable from Meehan v. State, 3 N.E.3d 255 (Ind. 2014), in that the cigarette in the instant case was found two days after the shooting in a high-traffic, public alley.

“While we seldom reverse for insufficient evidence, we have an affirmative duty to ensure the proof at trial is sufficient to support the verdict beyond a reasonable doubt,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote. “Although the sufficiency-of-the-evidence standard of review is deferential, it is not impossible to overcome, nor should it be.

“As our Supreme Court has observed, the Indiana Constitution guarantees ‘in all cases an absolute right to one appeal,’” Vaidik continued. “An impossible standard of review under which appellate courts merely ‘rubber stamp’ the fact-finder’s determinations, no matter how unreasonable, would raise serious constitutional concerns because it would make the right to an appeal illusory.

“The evidence in this case comes nowhere close to proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Vaidik concluded. “We therefore reverse Young’s convictions.”

Judge Robert Altice concurred in the reversal, but Judge Terry Crone dissented in a separate opinion, arguing that the majority disregarded the well-settled standard of review and “essentially accepted at face value the hypotheses of innocence that Young presented to the jurors … .”

Crone wrote that, among other things, Young having turned off his phone’s location data on May 3 and May 4 was “strong evidence of consciousness of guilt,” and his YouTube video search history involved a .40 caliber Glock, “the same as or very similar to the weapon used in the shootings.”

“In this case, the State presented far more probative evidence connecting Young to the senseless shootings at the gas station, and therefore I must dissent from the majority’s decision to overturn the jury’s guilty verdicts,” Crone wrote in dissent.

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