ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT
J. Richard Kiefer
James J. Bell
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
Karen M. Freeman-Wilson
Attorney General of Indiana
Thomas D. Perkins
Deputy Attorney General
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
ROBERT CHAMBERS, )
Appellant (Defendant Below), )
v. ) Indiana Supreme Court
) Cause No. 49S00-9905-CR-306
STATE OF INDIANA, )
Appellee (Plaintiff Below). )
APPEAL FROM THE MARION SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable Ruth Reichard, Judge
Cause No. 49G02-9805-CF-071245
ON DIRECT APPEAL
September 6, 2000
Robert Chambers was convicted of the murder of John Christopher Madden and sentenced
to sixty-five years imprisonment. On appeal, Chambers presents one issue for review:
whether he is entitled to a new trial based on the trial
courts refusal to give a proposed instruction regarding the impeachment of a witness
by prior inconsistent statements. We affirm the trial court.
Factual and Procedural Background
In the early morning hours of April 25, 1998, after consuming a large
number of beers and shots of whiskey at two Indianapolis bars, Chambers and
a friend, Eric Cruz, were invited to Maddens home where the three consumed
more beer. Ultimately, Cruz, who later testified that he was pretty smashed,
passed out in the dining room. At that point, Madden invited Chambers
to join him in his hot tub. Both men stripped to their
underwear and soaked for some period of time. Madden and Chambers went
to the basement to put their wet underwear in the dryer. Chambers
then put on his pants without underwear and Madden donned a long t-shirt.
Chambers and Madden were still in the basement when a bullet from
Chambers Glock nine millimeter handgun penetrated Maddens skull and killed him.
After the shooting, Chambers and Cruz left Maddens house without reporting the incident.
The next day, realizing that Chambers wallet was missing, the two men
returned to Maddens house and retrieved the wallet from the basement. They
also took two beer bottles and an ashtray. That day or soon
thereafter, Chambers and Cruz disposed of the bottles and ashtray, along with the
gun that killed Madden.
The police discovered Maddens body several days after his death and quickly determined
that Cruz and Chambers were the last two to see him alive.
Both men were interviewed by the police and each initially gave a statement
that he later admitted contained inaccuracies and outright lies. Both Chambers and
Cruz were arrested and charged with one count of murder and one count
of burglary as a Class B felony. In exchange for his testimony
at Chambers trial, Cruz pleaded guilty to burglary and assisting a criminal with
the States recommendation for an executed sentence of no more than twelve years.
Both Chambers and Cruz testified at trial. Although their versions agreed on
some points, they recounted very different stories as to the substance of a
conversation that occurred immediately after Maddens death. Most importantly, Chambers claimed that
he immediately told Cruz that the gun went off accidentally and that he
was not sure whether he or Madden was holding the gun at the
time it discharged. In contrast, Cruz testified that Chambers told him that
Madden had made unwanted sexual advances and that after repeated warnings, Chambers lost
it and shot Madden. The central issue at trial was whether Chambers
knowingly killed Madden. Because the only witness to the shooting was Chambers
himself, the States case regarding Chambers mens rea was built on the testimony
At trial, Cruzs testimony was impeached by earlier statements that he had made
under oath as well as statements that he had made to police.
For example, in the first two statements Cruz made to the police, he
denied having seen Madden in the three or four weeks prior to his
death. In his third statement, Cruz finally admitted that he and Chambers
were involved in Maddens death, but omitted the visit to Maddens home the
next day and the fact that Cruz had searched the dresser drawers in
Maddens bedroom. Finally, Brian Fouts was an acquaintance of both Chambers and
Cruz and testified to a conversation with the men while all three were
incarcerated in the Marion County Jail. On cross-examination, Cruz was asked if
he had ever spoken to the prosecutor about Fouts testimony. Cruz replied
that the prosecutor asked him if he knew Fouts, but Cruz denied discussing
Fouts deposition or any facts related to his testimony. In fact, just
three days before Cruz took the stand, the prosecutor and Cruz had spoken
by telephone and discussed Fouts and his statement. Commendably, the prosecutor recalled
Cruz to the stand to correct the record on that point. Cruz
acknowledged that he had not told the truth about his recent conversation with
the prosecutor but blamed his lapse of memory on cold medication.
All of these inconsistencies in Cruzs evolving account were presented to the jury,
which found Chambers guilty of murder but not guilty of burglary.
Withdrawn Jury Instruction
The trial court considered an instruction that would have informed the jury that
it had the right to reject the uncorroborated testimony of witnesses whose credibility
had been impeached by prior inconsistent statements.
See footnote The proposed instruction read:
The credibility of any witness may be impeached by proof that he has
made statements out of court contrary to and inconsistent with what he testifies
to in the trial concerning matters material and relevant to the issues joined.
And in this case, if any witness has been thus impeached about
material matters relevant to the issues in the case, then you have a
right to reject all of his testimony except insofar as he has been
corroborated by other credible evidence in this case.
If you should believe from the testimony in this case that any witness
or witnesses have willfully and intentionally testified falsely to any material fact in
the case, intending by such false testimony to mislead and deceive you as
to the truth in this case, you may under such belief, disregard the
whole or any part of the testimony of such witness or witnesses, if
in your opinion, you are justified, under your belief, in so doing.
The State objected to the instruction, opining: I think thats an incorrect statement
of law. The trial court expressed concern that the instruction was no
longer valid after this Courts 1991 decision to overrule the so-called
which permitted the use of prior statements as substantive evidence. See Patterson
v. State, 263 Ind. 55, 57-58, 324 N.E.2d 482, 484-85 (1975), overruled by
Modesitt v. State, 578 N.E.2d 649, 654 (Ind. 1991). The trial court
stated it was uncomfortable with the instruction because it was not a post-Modesitt
pattern instruction, and the court was unsure whether the instruction reflected current law.
Modesitt anticipated the adoption of Indiana Evidence Rule 801(d)(1) and precluded the
use of prior statements of a witness as substantive evidence except under the
circumstances set forth in the Rule. That holding did not affect the
right of a jury to disregard the uncorroborated testimony of a witness impeached
by prior inconsistent statements and had no impact on the validity of the
proposed jury instruction.
Although the trial courts reason for concern may be incorrect, its decision not
to give the instruction was not an abuse of discretion if the instructions,
considered as a whole and in reference to each other, did not mislead
the jury as to the applicable law. Young v. State, 696
N.E.2d 386, 389-90 (Ind. 1998). That is the case here. In
reviewing a trial courts decision to give or refuse tendered jury instructions, this
Court considers: (1) whether the instruction correctly states the law; (2) whether there
is evidence in the record to support the giving of the instruction;
and (3) whether the substance of the tendered instruction is covered by other
instructions that are given. Wooley v. State, 716 N.E.2d 919, 926
Whether the proposed instruction is desirable or not, it is a correct statement
of the law. See Norton v. State, 273 Ind. 635, 664-65,
408 N.E.2d 514, 533 (1980); Liechty v. State, 202 Ind. 66, 71, 169
N.E. 466, 468 (1930). Also, because three key witnesses, including Cruz and
Chambers, were impeached during trial by prior inconsistent statements, the giving of the
instruction was plainly supported by the evidence.
The issue then turns on whether the substance of the tendered instruction was
covered by other instructions that were given and whether the instructions as a
whole were adequate. The trial court gave the jury the following
preliminary and final instruction with regard to the credibility of witnesses.
You are the exclusive judges of the evidence, the credibility of the witnesses,
and of the weight to be given to the testimony of each of
them. In considering the testimony of any witness, you may take into
account his or her ability and opportunity to observe; the manner and conduct
of the witness while testifying; any interest, bias, or prejudice the witness may
have; any relationship with the other witnesses or interested parties; and the reasonableness
of the testimony of the witness considered in the light of all the
evidence in this case.
You should attempt to fit the evidence to the presumption that the Defendant
is innocent and the theory that every witness is telling the truth.
You should not disregard the testimony of any witness without a reason and
without careful consideration. If you find conflicting testimony, you must determine which
of the witnesses you will believe and which of them you will disbelieve.
In weighing the testimony to determine what or whom you will believe, you
should use your own knowledge, experience and common sense gained from day to
day living. The number of witnesses who testify to a particular fact,
or the quantity of evidence on a particular point, need not control your
determination of the truth. You should give the greatest weight to that
evidence which convinces you most strongly of its truthfulness.
Chambers argues that this instruction was not sufficient to inform the jury that
it had the expansive right to disregard the uncorroborated testimony of a witness
who had been impeached by prior inconsistent statements. Conclusion
Although it did not do so in the explicit terms of the proposed
instruction, the foregoing instruction told the jury that it was the exclusive judge
of witness credibility, and could disregard the testimony of a witness if it
had reason to do so. This is sufficient discussion of the subject.
It is certainly within the jurys knowledge, experience, and common sense to
choose to believe or disbelieve a witness who gave inconsistent statements and who
may have therefore testified untruthfully. Common experience, shared by us all, includes
listening to a stranger and concluding that nothing he or she has to
say is believable. The trial court must use some judgment in determining
the length, detail, and complexity of instructions. The trial court did not
abuse its discretion by refusing to dwell on the point raised by the
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, SULLIVAN and RUCKER, JJ., concur.
The origin of the proposed instruction is unclear. Chambers brief states
that the trial court proposed the instruction but the States brief claims that
the defense tendered it. The record is somewhat murky on this point.
However, for purposes of this decision, it is irrelevant who initiated the
discussion. The prosecutor objected to the instruction and the defense argued for
it and objected to the failure to give it.