COURT OF APPEALS OVERTURNS 1990 MURDER CONVICTION
The Indiana Court of Appeals, in a 3-0 decision, reversed the 1990 murder conviction of James A. Hayes. Hayes was convicted of murder by a Gibson County Jury in October 1990 for the July 1990 death of John M. Gulley. Evidence presented at the time of the trial showed that Hayes fatally shot Gulley with a sawed-off shotgun in the face at close range on the town square in Princeton. Hayes, who was age 27 at the time of the offense, has been incarcerated since just minutes after the shooting. He sought post-conviction relief from the courts after his previous appeal had been denied in 1991. In the petition for post-conviction relief, Hayes claimed ineffective assistance of counsel on the part of his attorney, long-time criminal defense lawyer Tim Dodd. Hayes argued that Dodd provided ineffective assistance of counsel for not objecting to an incorrect jury instruction. The instruction for murder, Hayes claimed, was incorrect because it did not properly instruct the jury regarding the State’s burden of proof as it related to sudden heat. At the time of the trial, then Circuit Court Judge Walter Palmer gave two jury instructions regarding possible alternative levels of culpability, including the instruction for murder as well as the instruction for the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter. The two instructions were identical, except that were the jury to find that Hayes acted in sudden heat, the jury was instructed it was to find Hayes guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. The law defines sudden heat as an excited mind; a condition that may be created by an emotion such as anger or jealously that is strong enough to obscure the reason of an ordinary person and prevent deliberation, meditation, or rational thought. Judge Palmer used pattern jury instructions previously approved by the Supreme Court to instruct the jury. However, an unrelated opinion issued by the Court of Appeals shortly before the murder trial had frowned upon not requiring the State to prove lack of sudden heat. Palmer’s pattern jury instruction did not instruct that to convict Hayes of murder the jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s action lacked sudden heat. The Court of Appeals ruled that the jury instruction was improper and that it was ineffective assistance of counsel for Hayes’ attorney to not have objected to the language used to define the offense of murder. Before the Court of Appeals decided this matter, the issue was first argued in front of current Gibson County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Meade. After hearing arguments and reading the briefs submitted by opposing counsel, Meade denied Hayes petition for post-conviction relief. In his opinion, Meade ruled that sudden heat was not an issue at trial because Hayes had testified on his own behalf that the gun went off accidentally. Meade noted further that the only time sudden heat was even mentioned at trial was during closing arguments when Hayes’ attorney tried to show that detectives interviewing the defendant had tried to get him to admit that he had acted as he did because he was “freaked out” and had “anger built up”. Meade further ruled that, considering the circumstances as a whole, the jury was not likely to be confused by the instructions because the trial court had properly informed the jury that sudden heat was a mitigating factor for murder. The Appeals Court, however, disagreed and reversed Hayes conviction for murder because the instruction did not explicitly state that the Prosecutor must prove lack of sudden heat. Gibson County Prosecutor Robert Krieg has asked Attorney General Steve Carter to petition the Court of Appeals for a rehearing. Krieg stated that in the alternative he will ask the Indiana Supreme Court to transfer the case to their docket. Krieg stated that while he has taken these necessary steps to try to have the decision reconsidered, he understands that the decision will likely stand since it was reversed based upon a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel. Krieg further stated that he respectfully disagreed with the Court and will do all he can to make sure Hayes remains held accountable for the death of John Gulley. Krieg noted how difficult it was to have to inform the parents of Mr. Gulley that Hayes’ conviction had been reversed after all these years. Krieg argued that he believed the jury was fully aware, based upon the instructions given to them at the time of trial, that they had to decide whether Hayes acted in sudden heat and that based upon its decision, it was clear they agreed unanimously that Hayes did not do so. “If the Court of Appeals decision stands, I will again file a charge of murder against Mr. Hayes” Krieg said. Krieg stated that if the charge must be refiled, he would argue that Hayes be held with no bond until such time as the case can be retried. Krieg also noted that Hayes may win the battle, but might still lose the war. If Hayes were convicted again of murder, Judge Meade may choose to impose a sentence greater than the 47 year sentence imposed in 1990. In Indiana, a conviction for murder carries with it a penalty of not less than 45 years and not more than 65 years with an advisory sentence of 55 years.