Taylor v. State, No. 82S00–1610–LW–576

Docket NºNo. 82S00–1610–LW–576
Citation86 N.E.3d 157
Case DateDecember 05, 2017
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

86 N.E.3d 157

Carltez TAYLOR, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff).

No. 82S00–1610–LW–576

Supreme Court of Indiana.

FILED December 5, 2017
Rehearing Denied February 15, 2018


Attorney for Appellant : Matthew J. McGovern, Anderson, Indiana

Attorneys for Appellee : Curtis T. Hill, Jr., Attorney General of Indiana, Kelly A. Loy, Andrew A. Kobe, Deputy Attorneys General, Indianapolis, Indiana

86 N.E.3d 160

Rush, Chief Justice.

Seventeen-year-old Carltez Taylor was convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and sentenced to life without parole ("LWOP"). He appeals his convictions, arguing that the State's references to his nickname "Looney the Shooter" led to fundamental error, that the State untimely amended the conspiracy to commit murder charge, and that insufficient evidence supports his conspiracy to commit murder conviction. He also argues that his LWOP sentence is inappropriate, violates the United States and Indiana Constitutions' proportionality requirements, and violates the Sixth Amendment because a jury never found a qualifying aggravator beyond a reasonable doubt. We reject his first three arguments, revise his sentence from LWOP to an aggregate eighty-year term, and decline to address his other challenges to LWOP.

Facts and Procedural History

On the night after Thanksgiving in 2015, seventeen-year-old Carltez Taylor went with a friend to hang out at D.G.'s house. D.G. and one of her friends—both teenage girls—were home on weekend passes from a juvenile detention center. D.G. knew Taylor as "Looney," and introduced him that way to her mother, Lyn. Uncomfortable with Taylor and his friend, Lyn ordered the boys to leave. They went outside and smoked cigarettes, but soon snuck back into the house and to the basement.

Later that night, another teenage boy arrived, bringing a 9mm Hi–Point handgun. He handed it to one of the other boys, who removed the magazine and handed the gun to Taylor. Taylor then put the magazine back in the gun and stuck the Hi–Point into his waistband.

As the night wore on, D.G. texted J.W. (a recent fling) about hanging out and having sex. When Taylor found out, he called J.W. a "b****" and said he "wasn't s*** [and] wasn't about nothing." The three boys plotted about "b****ing him" or "punking him out," which D.G. described as fighting someone who does not want to fight.

The rhetoric escalated. Taylor threatened to beat up D.G. unless she got J.W. to come over. Afraid, D.G. began enticing J.W.—who was suspicious, repeatedly asking if it was a setup. But after D.G. lied that she was alone, J.W. ultimately agreed to meet her at the corner near her house. J.W. and his nephew, T.S., met her there shortly thereafter.

D.G. asked J.W. and T.S. if they were "strapped" (had guns on them)—they did not. Then, D.G. kept them waiting at the corner for about ten minutes, supposedly for her "sister." But instead of a friend, a figure wearing black emerged from between two houses, with a hood snugly tied around his face. Seeing him, J.W. and T.S. walked the other way.

As the hooded person approached, D.G. recognized him as Taylor and watched him pull out the 9mm Hi–Point. When shots started flying—five or six in total—J.W. and T.S. took off running. They ran toward an alley, but when T.S. got there, he realized that J.W. was no longer with him. He returned to the street and found J.W. lying on the sidewalk, shot in the back.

T.S. then watched the shooter run past, recognizing him as Carltez Taylor, an acquaintance he knew from playing basketball. As Taylor ran by J.W., he said "CTK b****." J.W. and his friends were known as the "cream team," and "CTK" means "cream team killer." Within minutes, J.W. died on the sidewalk from a single gunshot wound to the back.

Before learning J.W.'s fate, D.G. and Taylor ran back to her house. As they arrived, Taylor grabbed D.G., put the still-hot gun to her head, and told her that if

86 N.E.3d 161

she said anything he would kill her. They returned to D.G.'s basement, where Taylor asked D.G. if he hit J.W. She told him that he did.

Taylor then removed his hoodie and texted a friend to pray for him. He and the other teenage boys hid the gun and magazine in separate parts of the basement's ceiling and made a large hole in the wall to hide inside.

The next day, T.S.'s family told police that Taylor was the shooter, and D.G. led detectives to the hoodie and the murder weapon. After DNA from the hoodie matched Taylor—leading to a warrant for his arrest—he turned himself in to police. Months later, when D.G. saw Taylor at juvenile court, he called her "the police" and said he "should have killed [her] when he had the chance."

The State charged Taylor with murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. The State filed a sentencing enhancement for all three offenses based on Taylor's use of a firearm, and sought LWOP based on the "committing murder by lying in wait" aggravator.

Just two days before trial, the State amended the conspiracy count to say that another teenager, not Taylor, supplied the handgun. Taylor objected that the amendment was untimely, but was overruled.

Taylor also asked the trial court to prevent the State's witnesses from using his nickname "Looney the Shooter" because of its undue prejudice. The court preliminarily agreed, but offered to reconsider at trial. During trial, Taylor did not object when a detective referred to him as "Looney the Shooter," nor when the State used the nickname in its closing argument.

The jury found Taylor guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and not guilty of attempted murder. It also found him eligible for an enhanced sentence for using a firearm.

At sentencing, the jury was specifically directed to consider Taylor's age as a mitigating factor. Ultimately, the jury recommended a sentence of life without parole. The court accepted the recommendation, sentencing Taylor to LWOP on the murder conviction plus fifteen years for the firearm enhancement, and to a concurrent thirty-five-year sentence on the conspiracy to commit murder conviction. It then merged the enhancement and concurrent sentence into LWOP.

Taylor now directly appeals both his convictions and his sentence to this Court, raising six issues. See Ind. Appellate Rule 4(A)(1)(a).

Discussion and Decision

I. The State's References to Taylor as "Looney the Shooter" Did Not Lead to Fundamental Error.

Taylor first argues that his trial was unfair because a State's witness said that Taylor's nickname was "Looney the Shooter" and because the State used that nickname to argue that he shot J.W. Taylor didn't object to either one of these uses at trial, so he argues fundamental error. The State responds that fundamental error review doesn't apply because Taylor may have decided not to object for strategic reasons.

The State is right that we will not review claims, even for fundamental error, when appellants expressly declare at trial that they have no objection. See Halliburton v. State, 1 N.E.3d 670, 678–79 (Ind. 2013). But that did not happen here. Taylor did not agree to the State's use of his "Looney the Shooter" nickname; he simply said nothing. Without evidence that this silence was strategic, we review for fundamental error. See id. at 679 ; Hitch v. State, 51 N.E.3d 216, 219 (Ind. 2016).

86 N.E.3d 162

To prove fundamental error, Taylor must "show that the trial court should have raised the issue sua sponte due to a blatant violation of basic and elementary principles, undeniable harm or potential for harm, and prejudice that makes a fair trial impossible." Harris v. State, 76 N.E.3d 137, 140 (Ind. 2017).

Before trial, Taylor asked the trial court to bar the State's witnesses from calling him "Looney the Shooter." He acknowledged that "Looney" was relevant to his identity, but argued that "Looney the Shooter" was too prejudicial. The trial court granted Taylor's request. Nonetheless, at trial the State asked its lead detective what Taylor's nickname was, and he told the jury "Looney the Shooter."

The State then used the nickname during closing argument. It argued that "Carltez Taylor began firing bullets at [J.W.] and [T.S.]. ... Carltez Taylor refers to himself as Looney the Shooter, that is for your consideration." And later: "Is it reasonable to believe that someone who identifies themselves as Looney the Shooter would even let someone pull the trigger[?]"

These references to Taylor as "Looney the Shooter" were improper. True, calling him simply "Looney" was appropriate to prove Taylor's identity—D.G. knew him only as "Looney," that's how she introduced him to her mother, and Taylor had "Looney" tattooed on his forearm. See McAbee v. State, 770 N.E.2d 802, 805 (Ind. 2002). But "Looney" sufficed for that purpose, so adding "the Shooter" merely ratcheted up the prejudice. See id. (questioning the admissibility of nicknames that carry an "implication of wrongdoing"). Then, the State used the nickname in closing to argue that Taylor acted in accordance with his "unsavory or lawless character or reputation"—a prohibited use under...

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32 practice notes
  • Conley v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 19A-PC-3085
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • February 23, 2021
    ...sentence to eighty-eight years for a brutal murder where the victim was stabbed forty-seven times), reh'g denied ; Taylor v. State , 86 N.E.3d 157, 167 (Ind. 2017) (reducing a seventeen-year-old defendant's LWOP sentence to eighty years for a "senseless and heinous" murder), cert. denied , ......
  • Crabtree v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 19A-CR-2128
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • September 2, 2020
    ...deference to the trial court's sentence,’ then ‘independently examine’ the defendant's offenses and character." Taylor v. State , 86 N.E.3d 157, 165 (Ind. 2017) (quoting Satterfield v. State , 33 N.E.3d 344, 355 (Ind. 2015) ), cert. denied . [54] We look to the statutory range established f......
  • Cornell v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 19A-CR-1101
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • January 9, 2020
    ...(Ind. Ct. App. 2011) (finding sixty-year sentence imposed on fifteen-year-old defendant not inappropriate); see also Taylor v. State , 86 N.E.3d 157 (Ind. 2017) (reducing a seventeen-year-old defendant's sentence for murder from life without parole to eighty years—the maximum term of years ......
  • Conley v. State, Supreme Court Case No. 21S-PC-256
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • March 23, 2022
    ...sentence to 100 years for a sixteen-year-old convicted of two murders, a robbery, and a criminal gang enhancement); Taylor v. State , 86 N.E.3d 157 (Ind. 2017) (revising an LWOP sentence to 80 years for a sixteen-year-old convicted of shooting and killing another juvenile); Brown v. State ,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 cases
  • Conley v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 19A-PC-3085
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • February 23, 2021
    ...sentence to eighty-eight years for a brutal murder where the victim was stabbed forty-seven times), reh'g denied ; Taylor v. State , 86 N.E.3d 157, 167 (Ind. 2017) (reducing a seventeen-year-old defendant's LWOP sentence to eighty years for a "senseless and heinous" murder), cert. denied , ......
  • Crabtree v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 19A-CR-2128
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • September 2, 2020
    ...deference to the trial court's sentence,’ then ‘independently examine’ the defendant's offenses and character." Taylor v. State , 86 N.E.3d 157, 165 (Ind. 2017) (quoting Satterfield v. State , 33 N.E.3d 344, 355 (Ind. 2015) ), cert. denied . [54] We look to the statutory range established f......
  • Cornell v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 19A-CR-1101
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • January 9, 2020
    ...(Ind. Ct. App. 2011) (finding sixty-year sentence imposed on fifteen-year-old defendant not inappropriate); see also Taylor v. State , 86 N.E.3d 157 (Ind. 2017) (reducing a seventeen-year-old defendant's sentence for murder from life without parole to eighty years—the maximum term of years ......
  • Conley v. State, Supreme Court Case No. 21S-PC-256
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • March 23, 2022
    ...sentence to 100 years for a sixteen-year-old convicted of two murders, a robbery, and a criminal gang enhancement); Taylor v. State , 86 N.E.3d 157 (Ind. 2017) (revising an LWOP sentence to 80 years for a sixteen-year-old convicted of shooting and killing another juvenile); Brown v. State ,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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