Corcoran v. State

Decision Date05 September 2002
Docket NumberNo. 02S00-9805-DP-293.,02S00-9805-DP-293.
Citation774 N.E.2d 495
PartiesJoseph E. CORCORAN, Appellant (Defendant), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

P. Stephen Miller, John C. Bohdan, Glasser and Ebbs, Fort Wayne, IN, Attorneys for Appellant.

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, James B. Martin, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

SHEPARD, Chief Justice.

Joseph E. Corcoran was under stress because his sister's upcoming marriage would necessitate his moving out of her house. And his brother said Corcoran could not move in with him.

He awoke one afternoon to hear his brother and others downstairs talking about him. Irritated, he loaded his rifle and went downstairs to intimidate them, but as Corcoran said later, "It just didn't happen that way." (R. at 1988.) Corcoran killed his brother, his sister's fiancé, and two other men in the ensuing incident.

We affirm the trial court's sentence of death.

Facts & Procedural History

This case returns to us following a remand. Corcoran v. State, 739 N.E.2d 649 (Ind.2000). We directed the trial court to reconsider its earlier sentence and sentencing order.

At trial, the State charged Corcoran with four counts of murder and requested the death penalty. The jury found Corcoran guilty of all four counts and recommended the death penalty. The trial court imposed it. We found a significant possibility that the trial judge's original sentencing order relied on non-statutory aggravators in imposing the death penalty and remanded for the trial court to redetermine whether to impose death based only on statutory aggravating circumstances. Corcoran, 739 N.E.2d at 657.

After re-weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the quadruple murder, the trial court issued a revised sentencing order and again imposed the death sentence. In response to our remand order, the trial judge stated:

The Court, having evaluated and balanced all these circumstances, finds that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances. The Court again finds that the mental or emotional disturbance suffered by [Corcoran] did not affect his capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.
The Court, having considered the jury's recommendation that the death penalty be imposed, now finds that such a sentence is supported by the facts and the evidence, and the character of [Corcoran], and therefore orders that [Corcoran] be executed pursuant to Indiana law....

(Supp. R. at 49.)

Corcoran argues on appeal that the trial court improperly considered non-statutory aggravators and failed to consider all proffered mitigators. (Appellant's Br. at 2-3.) We will also consider Corcoran's final claim from his original direct appeal: whether the death sentence is manifestly unreasonable.1

I. Aggravating & Mitigating Circumstances

Corcoran points to the following portion of the revised sentencing order to support his argument that the trial court again improperly considered non-statutory aggravators:

The trial Court, in balancing the proved aggravators and mitigators, emphasizes to the Supreme Court that it only relied upon those proven statutory aggravators. The trial Court's remarks at the sentencing hearing, and the language in the original sentencing order explain why such high weight was given to the statutory aggravator of multiple murder, and further support the trial Court's personal conclusion that the sentence is appropriate punishment for this offender and these crimes.

(Supp. R. at 48-49.) He also argues that the revised sentencing order is deficient because the trial court found as proven only four of the ten mitigating circumstances he put forward. (Appellant's Br. at 8-9.)

In Harrison v. State, 644 N.E.2d 1243, 1262 (Ind.1995), after remand, 659 N.E.2d 480 (Ind.1995), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 933, 117 S.Ct. 307, 136 L.Ed.2d 224 (1996), we held that a court must offer a detailed explanation of the factors and the weighing process that lead to a death sentence. For guidance, we set out the following steps:

The trial court's statement of reasons (i) must identify each mitigating and aggravating circumstance found, (ii) must include the specific facts and reasons which lead the court to find the existence of each such circumstance, (iii) must articulate that the mitigating and aggravating circumstances have been evaluated and balanced in determination of the sentence, and (iv) must set forth the trial court's personal conclusion that the sentence is appropriate punishment for this offender and this crime.

Id. (citations omitted).

When imposing a death sentence, a trial court must limit its consideration of aggravating circumstances to those listed in the death penalty statute, Ind.Code Ann. § 35-50-2-9(b) (West 2000). Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463, 500 (Ind.2001), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 122 S.Ct. 905, 151 L.Ed.2d 874 (2002). To satisfy the specificity requirement of Harrison, the sentencing order must "explicitly indicate which mitigating circumstances the trial court found ... [and] explain the specific facts and reasons that led the court to find the existence of whatever mitigating circumstances it did find." Holsinger v. State, 750 N.E.2d 354, 362 (Ind.2001).

"We require such specificity in a sentencing order or statement of reasons for imposing a sentence to insure the trial court considered only proper matters when imposing sentence, thus safeguarding against the imposition of sentences which are arbitrary or capricious, and to enable the appellate court to determine the reasonableness of the sentence imposed." Harrison, 644 N.E.2d at 1262 (citation omitted).

When we remand criminal cases to trial courts for new sentencing orders, a trial court's responsibility is to "produce a new sentencing order that responds to the concerns this Court has raised." O'Connell v. State, 742 N.E.2d 943, 952-53 (Ind. 2001). Our sole concern here was the possibility that the trial court relied on non-statutory aggravators, so it fulfilled its responsibility by "issuing a new sentencing order without taking further action." Id. at 953.

We are now satisfied that the trial court has relied on only aggravators listed in Indiana Code § 35-50-2-9(b). In response to our remand, the trial court stated, "[I]n balancing the proved aggravators and mitigators, [the trial court] emphasizes to the Supreme Court that it only relied upon those proven statutory aggravators." (Supp. R. at 48-49.) There is no lack of clarity in this statement and no plausible reason to believe it untrue.

As for the trial court's consideration of mitigating circumstances, Corcoran proffered ten mitigators, but the court found that he proved only four. (Supp. R. at 47-48.) The Court then stated:

The Court finds that the Defendant has proved the mitigating circumstance that he was under the influence of a mental or emotional disturbance at the time the murders were committed on July 26, 1997. The Court gives this mitigating circumstance medium weight. Dr. Engum's opinion at trial was consistent with the opinions of the Court appointed experts that the Defendant suffered from a personality disorder, either paranoid personality disorder, or schizotypal personality disorder.

The Defendant requests the Court to consider as a further mitigating circumstance the fact he cooperated fully with investigating authorities, reducing the potential for additional harm and furthering the State's case against himself. The Court does believe this to be a mitigating circumstance. The Defendant did in fact cooperate with the police and gave a videotaped confession of his involvement. At no time did he deceive or hinder the investigative process by making false or misleading statements. However, as he was the only adult left alive in the house, it would not have been difficult for the police to investigate and determine who was responsible. The Court therefore assigns this mitigator a low weight.

The Defendant's eighth mitigator is his lack of a significant criminal history. The Defendant has a 1993 conviction for Criminal Mischief as a Class A Misdemeanor. He has no juvenile adjudications. The Court assigns this mitigator a low weight.
Finally, the Defendant's remorse is advanced as a mitigating circumstance. The Defendant has indicated such remorse in a letter to the Court. The Court assigns this mitigator a low weight.

(Supp. R. at 47-48.)

Corcoran's argument that the trial court did not consider six of the proffered mitigating circumstances is without merit. As the mitigating circumstances were not the focus of our concern, we are not surprised that the trial court's second order analyzed only those aggravating and mitigating circumstances it found pertinent to the task on remand.

The trial judge had in fact analyzed Corcoran's proffered mitigators in the course of its original sentencing. Our review of the record also persuades us that the trial court properly rejected the remaining factors in the original sentencing order. (R. at 2574-78.) Corcoran claimed first that his mental disease affected his capacity to appreciate or conform his conduct. (R. at 2574.) As we discuss in greater detail below, the trial court did not err in rejecting it.

In a related vein, Corcoran also asked the court to consider the fact that he shielded his young niece from the bloodshed as a mitigator. (R. at 2575.) But this fact cuts both ways. His actions demonstrate a keen awareness of the events that were to follow, and suggest to us that his capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct was not inhibited.

Third, Corcoran argues that his mental disease prevented him from competently assisting in his defense, stemming primarily from his refusal of favorable plea recommendations offered by the State. (R. at 2574, 2909.) The State's pleas would have kept Corcoran in jail for life, but Corcoran rejected...

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