Teen murder wavier to adult court affirmed; police custody issue splits COA

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The Indiana Lawyer on 8/19/2019 by Dave Stafford

A juvenile court’s rulings in a murder case implicating a 15-year-old boy who had gone to the police station to answer questions after he had been treated for stab wounds were upheld Monday by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The panel affirmed the Lake Superior Court’s finding that there was probable cause to find O.E.W. committed acts that would be felony murder, robbery resulting in serious bodily injury and theft if committed by an adult — a necessary judgment to waive the case to adult criminal court. The appellate court also affirmed the trial court’s grant of motion to suppress certain statements the teen made to police because he had not been advised of his Miranda rights.

The case began two years ago, in August 2017, when then-15-year-old O.E.W told his girlfriend he was going to buy marijuana from a neighbor in Hammond. He later came home with what appeared to be puncture wounds to his arms, legs, back and torso. He ultimately told his de facto father the injuries were the result of a fight.

After his wounds were treated, the teen’s mother called police to report an alleged attack on her son, and a detective told her she should bring him to the police station to make a statement. Hammond detectives spoke with the teen and his mother in an interview room, and the statement was recorded on video. O.E.W. initially told police he had been in a fight with schoolmates, but the story didn’t hold up when police talked to the other teens O.E.W said had been involved.

Ultimately, police asked the teen about the murder of Lucia Gonzales, of which O.E.W. was aware. As he became a suspect, police obtained warrants for his DNA, which matched evidence connected to the crime. Likewise, location information for Gonzales’ cellphone led police to follow the pings, finding it beneath O.E.W.’s pillow where he slept.

In March 2018, the state filed its delinquency petition, along with a petition to waive jurisdiction to adult criminal court, which it did last August. The trial court found probable cause that O.E.W. committed what would be felony murder, Level 2 felony robbery resulting in bodily injury and Class A misdemeanor theft if committed by an adult. The trial court also suppressed any statements the teen made to police because he had not been advised of his Miranda rights.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court in all respects in this consolidated appeal, State of Indiana v. O.E.W.18A-JV-2409.

“With regard to the State’s appeal, we conclude that the juvenile court did not err as a matter of law by concluding that O.E.W. was subject to custodial interrogation when the police questioned him regarding his knowledge of Gonzales’s death. We therefore affirm the juvenile court’s order on O.E.W.’s motion to suppress,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the majority joined by Judge Melissa May. “With regard to O.E.W.’s cross-appeal, we conclude that the juvenile court did not clearly err when it found that the evidence is sufficient to show that there is probable cause to believe that O.E.W. committed acts that would be felony murder, robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, and theft if committed by an adult.”

Judge Elaine Brown dissented from the appellate court’s ruling on the trial court’s motion to suppress. She would not find that O.E.W. was in custody at the police station, “(i)n the context of a purported victim showing up at the police station and being asked, in a room with a door that remained open, first about his injuries and eventually about certain events that occurred in the neighborhood … .”