867 N.E.2d 144 (Ind. 2007), 45S04-0611-CR-477, Drane v. State

Docket Nº:45S04-0611-CR-477.
Citation:867 N.E.2d 144
Party Name:Ronnie DRANE, Appellant (Defendant Below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
Case Date:May 29, 2007
Court:Supreme Court of Indiana
 
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Page 144

867 N.E.2d 144 (Ind. 2007)

Ronnie DRANE, Appellant (Defendant Below),

v.

STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).

No. 45S04-0611-CR-477.

Supreme Court of Indiana

May 29, 2007

Appeal from the Lake Superior Court, No. 45G03-0410-MR-12 The Honorable Thomas Webber, Judge Pro Tempore , On Petition To Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 45A04-0503-CR-164.

P. Jeffrey Schlesinger, Appellate Public Defender, Crown Point, IN, Attorney for Appellant.

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, Ryan D. Johanningsmeier, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

SHEPARD, Chief Justice.

At the conclusion of a bench trial, the court found appellant Ronnie Drane guilty for the rape and murder of Tomorra "Precious" Taylor and sentenced him to a combined

Page 145

total of eighty-five years. The Court of Appeals reversed for insufficient evidence. Having granted transfer, we affirm the trial court.

Facts and Procedural History

Tomorra "Precious" Taylor and her cousin Adrian Ross spent the afternoon of May 27, 2002, together visiting friends and family in Gary, Indiana. They stopped at Steve Chatfield's home, and Taylor borrowed Chatfield's phone to call Ronnie Drane. (State's Ex. 3, 5; Tr. at 190-94.) Taylor later stopped at a gas station to make a telephone call, and shortly after she completed the call, a man driving a "silver van" with "nice rims" arrived. (Tr. at 107.) Taylor left Ross and climbed into the passenger seat of the van to talk to the male driver. (Id. at 108.) Taylor shortly returned to her car, and she and Ross continued visiting friends and family. (Id. at 111.)

At about 8 p.m., Taylor and Ross went to the home of Taylor's foster mother, Chinese Lofton. (Id. at 111-12.) Taylor placed several more telephone calls to Drane and made arrangements to meet him that night. (Id. at 435-37.) Taylor's last conversation with Drane was at 9:47 p.m.; shortly thereafter, Taylor left Lofton's home alone. (Id. at 39, 44-46; State's Ex. 5.)

Between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m., off-duty Gary Police Corporal John Jones noticed a "gray or silver mini-van" parked in M.C. Bennett Park near the barbecue shelters. (Tr. at 289-95, 301.) The van stood out because the park closed after sunset, and park police were supposed to make sure the park was empty. (Id. at 289.) Corporal Jones testified that the van had "elongated taillights," or in other words, lights "[o]n the rear driver and passenger side [that] start pretty much at the top and go down to almost the bumper." 1 (Id. at 291.) Two to three hours later, on his way home, Corporal Jones saw what appeared to be the same van parked in the same spot. (Id. at 290.)

At about 9 a.m. the next morning, a man collecting cans in the park found Taylor's body in a shelter close to the location where Corporal Jones saw the van the previous night. (Id. at 21, 75-77, 291-93.) Taylor's body was face down, and her legs were spread open. (Id. at 22, 355-56; State's Ex. 6, 7.) Her blue jean skirt was pulled up so that her genitalia were visible. (Tr. at 22, 355-56; State's Ex. 6, 7.) Her shoes were strewn about a nearby picnic table. (Tr. at 22, 355- 56; State's Ex. 6, 7, 53.) Taylor had several injuries, including a bruised and lacerated lower lip, abrasions on her ear, left jaw, and upper back, a fractured bone in her neck, and a large bruise on her upper right thigh. (Tr. at 143-48, 171-73.) The coroner concluded strangulation was the cause of death. (Id. at 139.)

Detectives found Drane...

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