James v. State, 64S00-9012-DP-01050

Citation613 N.E.2d 15
Case DateApril 29, 1993
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

Donald W. Pagos, William Janes, Sweeney, Dabagia, Donoghue, Thorne, Janes & Pagos, Michigan City, for appellant.

Pamela Carter, Atty. Gen., Arthur Thaddeus Perry, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

KRAHULIK, Justice.

Defendant-Appellant, Vincent James, was convicted by jury of one count of felony murder in connection with the death of Gayle Taylor during a robbery. Ind.Code Ann. Secs. 35-42-1-1(2) (West Supp.1992) (felony murder) and 35-42-5-1 (West 1986) (robbery). Because the death penalty was sought, the jury was reconvened and, after hearing evidence and argument of counsel, recommended that the death penalty be imposed. Ind.Code Ann. Sec. 35-50-2-9(b)(1)(G) (West Supp.1992). In addition, the jury found James to be an habitual offender. Ind.Code Ann. Sec. 35-50-2-8 (West Supp.1992). The trial court entered a sentencing order which found that James should be executed. We address the following issues raised in this direct appeal:

(1) Whether the trial court erred in allowing testimony from a "blood spatter" expert hired by the State without allowing James the funds to hire his own expert;

(2) Whether the trial court erred in refusing to grant a mistrial after the State twice introduced evidence of James' criminal history;

(3) Whether the trial court erred in refusing to grant a mistrial after the State withdrew certain evidence;

(4) Whether the trial court erred in granting a jury request to replay a videotape;

(5) Whether the trial court erred in denying James' motion for a directed verdict at the conclusion of the habitual offender phase;

(6) Whether James' pre-trial confession was properly admitted;

(7) Whether a witness's identification of James was properly admitted;

(8) Whether admission of a "mug shot" photographic array constituted reversible error;

(9) Whether the trial court erred in failing to grant a new trial based upon newly-discovered evidence; and

(10) Whether the change of venue was proper.

Having reviewed the transcript in light of the alleged errors, we reverse the sentence of death on issue (1) and remand the case for a new death penalty trial. We affirm the conviction for felony murder. Other issues were raised by James in his brief, but in view of our decision today, they need not be discussed.


On December 15, 1989, James entered an office of an insurance agency in Michigan City, Indiana, because he had heard that insurance companies keep large amounts of money on hand. During the course of the ensuing robbery, Gayle Taylor, who worked in the insurance agency office, was shot once in the head with James' gun. At approximately 1:55 p.m., the police were alerted to the shooting by a telephone call from the victim. When police arrived, they found her on the floor in a small room in the rear of the insurance office, with blood spattered around the room. The outer office appeared intact. Witnesses identified James as being in the vicinity of the agency near the time of the shooting. One of those witnesses worked in the office next door and reported hearing a single gunshot.

After James was arrested, he was taken to the Michigan City police headquarters to be booked. When asked to empty his pockets, he put his hand up to his mouth and coughed. When officers took hold of him, a ring fell from his mouth. That ring was identified by the victim's fiance as the engagement ring he had given her. Ultimately, James admitted entering the insurance agency to steal money. He admitted that he had instructed the victim to give him the ring, which she did. He also stated that when he instructed the victim to move into the smaller back room where the victim was found, they began arguing and the gun went off accidentally. The victim died as a result of the gunshot wound. There were no other apparent injuries.

Blood Spatter Expert

Dean Marks, a sergeant with the Indiana State Police, testified during the guilt phase of the trial as an expert witness concerning the interpretation of the pattern of blood spatters found at the scene of the shooting. The trial court denied James' timely requests for funds to hire his own blood spatter expert and overruled James' timely objections to Marks' testimony. James claims that admission of Marks' testimony constituted reversible error because (1) the trial court should have approved funds for James to hire his own blood spatter expert or, alternatively, (2) blood spatter interpretation was not a proper subject for expert testimony. We agree that he was entitled to his own expert.

During the guilt phase of the trial, James defended a charge of felony murder; thus, the State was not required to prove that James had any intent to kill the victim, but only that he intended to rob and that the victim was killed during the robbery. Ind.Code Sec. 35-42-1-1(2) and Ind.Code Sec. 35-42-5-1. After he was found guilty of felony murder, the jury was reconvened to consider a recommendation of death. As the lone statutory aggravator used to support the death penalty count, the State was required to prove that James had the intent to kill. Ind.Code Sec. 35-50-2-9(b)(1)(G). Sergeant Marks' testimony, that the victim's head was approximately one foot from the floor at the time she was shot, tended to support the State's theory that the killing occurred as an intentional act on James' part to execute the only witness to his crime. The testimony tended to negate James' assertion in his pre-trial statement to police that the victim was shot accidentally in the midst of a struggle. Thus, the opinion of the blood spatter expert was testimony central to the State's death penalty case.

In Indiana, a criminal defendant is not constitutionally entitled, at public expense, to any type or number of expert witnesses he desires to support his case. Kennedy v. State (1991), Ind., 578 N.E.2d 633, 640, cert. denied --- U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 1299, 117 L.Ed.2d 521. A defendant who requests funds for an expert witness has the burden of demonstrating the need for that expert. Id. The appointment of experts is left to the sound discretion of the trial court, and only an abuse of that discretion will result in a reversal, but a trial court must provide a defendant access to experts where it is clear that prejudice will otherwise result. Id. Issues which the trial court should consider in determining whether a defendant is entitled to funds for an expert include (1) whether defense counsel already possesses the skills to cross-examine the expert adequately or could prepare to do so by studying published writings, Id.; (2) whether the purpose of the expert is exploratory only, Hough v. State (1990), Ind., 560 N.E.2d 511, 516; and (3) whether the nature of the expert testimony involves precise physical measurements and chemical testing, the results of which were not subject to dispute. Schultz v. State (1986), Ind., 497 N.E.2d 531, 533-34. In cases where a defendant faces the death penalty, we also have held that the failure to allow the defendant appropriate resources to retain an expert who would give an opinion concerning the statutory mitigator, may require reversal of the death penalty. Castor v. State (1992), Ind., 587 N.E.2d 1281, 1288.

We find Castor more applicable to this case than those cases relied upon by the State, viz, Hough, Schultz and Jackson. The testimony from the blood spatter expert, which provided evidence of an intentional killing, was central in the penalty phase and was highlighted by the State in final argument. Knowledge concerning cross-examination of blood spatter experts is not the kind of experience that defense counsel would normally be expected to possess. In fact, defense counsel was left to use, as a resource for cross-examination, a book that Sergeant Marks adopted as authoritative on the subject of blood spatter interpretation, but the contents of which Sergeant Marks was unable to explain. In addition, Sergeant Marks acknowledged that other experts interpreting the same evidence in this case might reach different conclusions. Under these facts, and where the defendant faces the ultimate penalty, we conclude that it was error not to provide the defendant with a blood spatter expert. Therefore, we must reverse the death penalty.

However, we disagree with James' contention that interpretation of blood spatters was not a proper subject of expert testimony or that Sergeant Marks was not qualified to give that testimony. Expert testimony is appropriate where (1) the subject matter of the opinion is distinctly related to some science, profession, business or occupation beyond the knowledge of the average lay person; and (2) the witness has sufficient skill, knowledge or experience in the field such that the witness' opinion or inference will aid the trier of fact in the search for truth. Fox v. State (1987), Ind., 506 N.E.2d 1090, 1095. No precise amount of knowledge is required; the extent of the witness' knowledge affects the weight of his testimony, not its admissibility. Rowan v. State (1982), Ind., 431 N.E.2d 805, 816.

Indiana courts have previously allowed expert testimony on blood spatter interpretation. See King v. State (1988), Ind., 531 N.E.2d 1154, 1157; Fox v. State, 506 N.E.2d at 1095; Hampton v. State (1992), Ind.App., 588 N.E.2d 555, 557-58. We find the discussion in Hampton persuasive on this issue, and hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the State to present expert testimony from a blood spatter interpretation expert. Sergeant Marks' qualifications--he had attended two schools in blood stain interpretation, performed approximately twenty-five blood stain interpretations in the past, and previously testified as an expert--are superior to the qualifications approved by this Court in Fox, 506 N.E.2d...

To continue reading

Request your trial
95 cases
  • Wisehart v. State, 48S00-9005-PD-378
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • March 19, 1998
    ......Jeffreys Merryman, Jr., Deputy Public Defender, Indianapolis, for Appellant. .         Pamela Carter, Attorney General, James A. Joven, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for Appellee. .         SULLIVAN, Justice. .         We review and affirm a ......
  • Smith v. Farley
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • October 31, 1994
    ......Supp. 1199 . Tommie J. SMITH, Petitioner, . v. . Robert FARLEY, Superintendent Indiana State Prison, Respondent. . No. 88cv685. . United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend ...The First Congress under the leadership of then Representative James Madison considered many of these habeas recommendations along with the contents of the "Declaration ......
  • Bivins v. State, 06S00-9105-DP-00401
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • November 4, 1994
    ...... Lafayette State Police Post while other officers were listening over a speaker system in a "listening room." Citing the testimony of Sergeant James, the State contends that the record is devoid of evidence that tape recordings were made of the February 25, 1991, statements. The State contends ......
  • Coleman v. State, 45S00-9203-PD-158
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • December 29, 1998
    ......1299, 117 L.Ed.2d 521. Other Indiana cases have also applied these standards. E.g., Harrison v. State, 644 N.E.2d 1243 (Ind.1995); James v. State, 613 N.E.2d 15 (Ind.1993); Bland v. State, 468 N.E.2d 1032 (Ind.1984). .         One of the factors a court should consider when ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT