Lahrman v. State, 44A03-8607-PC-200

Docket NºNo. 44A03-8607-PC-200
Citation501 N.E.2d 1109
Case DateDecember 18, 1986
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Donald C. Swanson, Jr., Fort Wayne, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Joseph N. Stevenson, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

STATON, Presiding Judge.

Donald Lahrman appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. Lahrman was convicted by a jury of arson in connection with an explosion and fire that destroyed his place of business, and received a six year suspended sentence.

Lahrman filed a petition for post-conviction relief on the ground of newly discovered evidence. This petition was denied and Lahrman appeals, raising several issues which we consolidate and restate as follows:

I. Did the PCR court err in finding that Lahrman was not entitled to a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence?

II. Did the PCR court err in excluding the evidence of a polygraph examination taken by Lahrman?

III. Did the PCR court improperly ignore evidence?

IV. Were the PCR court's findings of fact and conclusions of law sufficiently specific to satisfy Ind. Rules of Procedure, Post-Conviction Rule 1, section 6?

We affirm.

I. Newly Discovered Evidence

Three witnesses testified at Lahrman's post-conviction hearing. Billy Brown, who is married to Lahrman's sister-in-law, sponsored photographs of the building as it appeared some years before the fire and of its foundation as it appeared from five months to 3 1/2 years after the fire. Brown also testified about the nature of Lahrman's business, which involved mobile home accessories and repairs, and propane gas delivery, and propane gas bottle filling on the premises. Brown listed many combustible items which were customarily kept at the business, including paint, roofing compounds, plastic accessories, cleaning solvents, and propane gas. Finally, Brown sponsored a flyer issued by the Honeywell Company to warn of faulty furnace and gas water heater controls. Although the control which was in use at Lahrman's business had disappeared from the trial court's evidence locker, Brown testified that it "could have been" one of the faulty controls.

Derald Dafforn, a retired Fort Wayne District Fire Chief, testified that hosing down a fire scene with high-pressure hoses, as was done at Lahrman's business, would have made it difficult to determine how and where the fire started. Dafforn also examined floor tiles from Lahrman's business and testified that he could not tell from the burn patterns on the tiles whether an accelerant had been used to start the fire.

Lahrman's main witness was Keith L. Naeve, who testified that he was self-employed as a fire and arson investigator for insurance companies, law enforcement agencies, and arson defendants. Naeve, a mechanical engineer formerly employed by the Wisconsin Natural Gas Company, estimated that he had attended six seminars and read six books on arson investigation, and he was a member of the Wisconsin and national chapters of the International Association of Arson Investigators.

Naeve testified that his investigation of the fire at Lahrman's business consisted of reading the trial transcript and examining photographs and floor tiles in evidence at the PCR hearing. Naeve did not examine the photographs that were in evidence at the jury trial.

At trial, the State's chief expert witness, Barker Davie, had testified that in his opinion, two quarts of gasoline had been spread on the floor of Lahrman's showroom, causing the explosion and fire. Naeve disagreed with this at the PCR hearing, offering his opinion that the most obvious sources of the explosion were the pipes, furnace, and liquid propane gas tanks. Naeve also disagreed with Davie's testimony about the flammability limits of a propane and air mixture, as well as his testimony about the lack of displacement of the furnace wall as a sign that the furnace had not been the source of the explosion. Naeve further testified that he disagreed with conclusions that Davie drew from char patterns on the floor tiles Naeve examined, and questioned the lack of evidence of hydrocarbon traces on the charred undersides of shelves and a desk in Lahrman's showroom. Finally, Naeve offered his opinion that Davie's investigation of the fire was worthless because the scene had been hosed down with high-pressure hoses and otherwise not preserved, and because Davie did not examine the scene until twelve days after the fire.

The State did not offer any evidence at the PCR hearing, and because of this Lahrman argues that the court erred in denying his petition for post-conviction relief. This argument fails. PCR 1, Section 5 places on the petitioner the burden of establishing his grounds for relief by a preponderance of the evidence, Dean v. State (1982), Ind., 433 N.E.2d 1172, 1180-81, modified on other grounds, 441 N.E.2d 457; and the PCR court can find that this burden has not been met whether the State presents evidence or not. Dixon v. State (1972), 154 Ind.App. 603, 290 N.E.2d 731, 742.

In this appeal, Lahrman stands in the position of one appealing from a negative judgment. The PCR judge is the trier of fact and the sole judge of the weight of evidence and the credibility of witnesses. We will reverse only if the decision is contrary to law--if the evidence is without conflict and can only lead to the opposite conclusion. Dillon v. State (1986), Ind., 492 N.E.2d 661, 662; Dean v. State, supra.

The legal test to be applied to Lahrman's petition is the same as that applied to a motion to correct errors seeking a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence. Torrence v. State (1975), 263 Ind. 202, 328 N.E.2d 214, 216-17. He must establish

(1) that the evidence has been discovered since the trial; (2) that it is material and relevant; (3) that it is not cumulative; (4) that it is not merely impeaching; (5) that it is not privileged or incompetent; (6) that due diligence was used to discover it in time for trial; (7) that the evidence is worthy of credit; (8) that it can be produced upon a retrial of the case; and (9) that it will probably produce a different result.

Clark v. State (1978), 269 Ind. 90, 378 N.E.2d 850, 853, cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1050, 99 S.Ct. 731, 58 L.Ed.2d 711. In making its finding as required by (9) above, the PCR court should consider the weight that a reasonable trier of fact would give the new evidence, and its probable impact in light of all the facts and circumstances shown at the original trial. Clark, supra.

The PCR judge determined that the evidence Lahrman produced at the hearing was cumulative or impeaching of evidence presented at trial, that it would have been available at the original trial if due diligence had been used to discover it, and that it would not produce a different result at trial.

Lahrman argues that his witnesses' testimony "completely destroyed the State's expert investigation and testimony," and thus would have produced a different result, but he does not show us how this is so. While Naeve's testimony at a new trial would at least afford a duel between expert witnesses, we cannot say that the evidence leads only to the conclusion that the result would be different.

Lahrman does not even challenge the PCR judge's findings as to the cumulative nature of the evidence or its availability at the original trial. At the PCR hearing, Lahrman bore the burden of making all nine showings set out above, and on appeal he must show that the evidence is uncontradicted and leads only to the conclusion...

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2 cases
  • State v. Hicks, 45A03-8704-PC-92
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • March 10, 1988
    ...and can lead only to the conclusion opposite that reached by the post-conviction relief court. Lahrman v. State (1986), Ind.App., 501 N.E.2d 1109, 1112. I. Judicial Notice In arguing that the post-conviction relief court erred in taking judicial notice of the records of Webster's trial, the......
  • Rose v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 09A04-1708-PC-1759
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • February 28, 2019 granted or denied," Bean v. State , 467 N.E.2d 671 (Ind. 1984), and must be "sufficient[ ] for review on appeal." Lahrman v. State , 501 N.E.2d 1109, 1114 (Ind. Ct. App. 1986). [20] Rose argues "the post-conviction court failed to make specific findings of fact and conclusion [sic] of la......

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