ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
Stanley L. Campbell Karen M. Freeman-Wilson
Fort Wayne, Indiana Attorney General of Indiana
Randi E. Froug
Deputy Attorney General
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
DEATRON LEE )
Appellant (Defendant Below), )
v. ) No. 02S00-9905-CR-286 )
STATE OF INDIANA, )
Appellee (Plaintiff Below). )
September 22, 2000
SHEPARD, Chief Justice.
The claim here is that a jurors brother attended a very large party
at which a killing occurred. We review the law on juror bias
and conclude the trial court correctly denied a request for a new trial.
As the evening progressed, some partygoers began throwing beer, and others attempted to
eject them. A fight broke out, and Bates protested that Jason Wallace
had sucker punched another partygoer with a blow to the back of the
head. (R. at 450.) Wallace overheard Bates describing this act as
weak, and Wallace and Bates began fighting. (R. at 450-52.) Bates,
during a pause in the action, handed his gun to Lee to hold
while Bates was brawling.
Several others joined in the fight on Wallaces behalf. Lee
also became engaged in the scuffle. Lee and Bates were outnumbered, and
Lee brandished Bates gun, ordering everyone to hold up and/or chill out and
declared, I aint playing. (R. at 457, 535.) As Lee made this
statement, Wallace was standing close by Bates and Lee, facing the duo.
Lee then shot Wallace in the chest. After Wallace fell, Bates kicked
him. Wallace died a few days later from the gunshot wound.
Lee and Bates fled. When police officers questioned Lee three or four
hours after the shooting, Lee claimed that he left the party before the
A jury found Lee guilty of murder.
See footnote The trial court sentenced him
to fifty-five years in prison.
After entry of the jury verdict and sentencing, Lees counsel filed a motion
to correct error. At a hearing on the motion, Lees counsel unsuccessfully
sought a new trial based on juror bias.
During voir dire, the court asked whether any of the prospective jurors knew
any of the anticipated witnesses, or whether any jurors remembered reading or hearing
anything about the case. One of the potential witnesses the court named
was Ben Kimmel, who would later testify that he saw Lee shoot Wallace.
Several jurors spoke up about various potential witnesses, but Thomas Zack Mathis
did not respond at that time to either question. The court empaneled
a jury, including Mathis, and both parties presented opening arguments.
The next morning, however, Mathis notified the court via the bailiff that he
was acquainted with Kimmel. The court promptly held a hearing at which
counsel for both parties queried Mathis about the nature of his knowledge.
Mathis indicated that he had not initially recognized Kimmels name because Kimmel was
a casual acquaintance from school whom Mathis knew by first name only.
During opening arguments, Mathis had realized that Kimmel might be someone he knew,
and confirmed his suspicion later that evening by looking at a high school
yearbook. Based upon Mathis assertion that this acquaintance would not affect his
assessment of Kimmels credibility, neither counsel objected to Mathis continuation as a juror.
At the hearing on the motion to correct error, Lees counsel called Kimmel
as a witness. Kimmel said he knew both juror Zack Mathis and
one Ben Mathis from school. He testified that Ben Mathis (but not
Zack) had been at the party where the shooting occurred. Kimmel presumed
that Ben and Zack were brothers because they shared the same last name.See footnote
Kimmel did not know when Ben Mathis had arrived at the party,
when he left, or whether he was at the party at the time
of the shooting.
Lees only other witness at the hearing was his trial attorney, who
stated that he would have requested Zack Mathis be removed from the jury
had this information come to light earlier. Lees counsel did not subpoena
either Zack or Ben Mathis to testify at the hearing; instead, she argued
implied bias based on relationship. (R. at 995.) The court denied
Lees motion based on lack of evidence that juror Mathis possessed any special
We have come a long way from the time of the Magna Carta, when criminal jurors were usually knights who often served on the accusing jury as well as the trial jury. See Lloyd E. Moore, The Jury: Tool of Kings, Palladium of Liberty 56 (1973). Todays jury practices strive to honor the true spirit of the concept of an impartial jury of ones peers. As Samuel Spencer of North Carolina said in 1788, Juries are called the bulwarks of our rights and liberties; and no country can ever be enslaved as long as those cases which affect their lives and property are to be decided, in great measure, by the consent of 12 honest, disinterested men. See footnote J. Kendall Few, The American Jury Trial Foundation, In Defense of Trial By Jury 242 (1993).
As recognized in Lopez v. State, 527 N.E.2d 1119, 1130 (Ind. 1988), a
defendant who proves that a juror lied on voir dire or was biased
against the defendant is entitled to a new trial, upon demonstrating both gross
misconduct and probable harm. Determinations of juror misconduct fall within the trial
courts discretionary authority. Id.
Here, Lee has not shown that juror Mathis lied during voir dire.
In fact, when Mathis realized after opening arguments that he was casually acquainted
with a witness, he promptly notified the court. Mathis was sufficiently forthcoming
during questioning that neither party requested his removal. Thus, if Lee has
a sustainable claim, it must rest upon a showing of bias.
One way that a litigant may prove bias is by presenting evidence of
an out-of-court communication by a juror. Timm v. State, 644 N.E.2d 1235,
1237 (Ind. 1994). Such a communication raises a rebuttable presumption of bias
in order to protect the essential safeguard of jury neutrality. Id.
Again, however, Lee has offered no proof that any out-of-court communication actually took
Lees argument of bias therefore rests entirely on Mathis fraternal relationship to someone
who was at the party. The mere existence of this relationship, he
asserts, implies bias and therefore justifies reversal. (Appellants Br. at 11-12.)
Lee is correct that a jurors bias may arise by inference when the
juror has some connection to the case. Threats v. State, 582 N.E.2d
396, 398 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991). A trial court should analyze such
potential bias by considering the nature of the connection, and any indications of
partiality. Id. The trial court must weigh the nature and extent
of the relationship versus the ability of the juror to remain impartial.
McCants v. State, 686 N.E.2d 1281, 1284-85 (Ind. 1997) (citing Threats, 582 N.E.2d
Here, any connection by juror Mathis to the case is purely speculative.
Lee seeks a new trial because Mathis brother, who was not called as
a witness, may have been at the party when the shooting occurred and
the two may have discussed the shooting. (Appellants Br. at 11-12.)
When Lees counsel was asked at the hearing on the motion to
correct error why she had not subpoenaed the brother to testify, she replied
that she did not want to put a witness on the stand if
she did not know what he was going to say. (R. at
995.) Conjecture of this sort falls far short of a prima facie
case of bias, much less the requisite showing of gross misconduct and probable
harm required for reversal.
The trial court properly denied Lees motion for a new trial.
In a roughly similar vein, Lee points to the testimony of Nick Fuller.
Fuller stated during his deposition that the same person who shot
Wallace also kicked Wallace. He expressed uncertainty at the trial.
Inconsistencies in identification testimony go to the weight of that testimony; it is
the jurys task to determine the credibility of the various witnesses and of
the evidence presented. See Parsley v. State, 557 N.E.2d 1331, 1335 (Ind.
1990). This Court looks to the evidence most favorable to the verdict
along with the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom that support the jurys verdict.
Blackmon v. State, 455 N.E.2d 586, 590 (Ind. 1983).
Here, the State presented testimony by several eyewitnesses. Ben Kimmel, who had
known Lee for at least six months prior to the party, saw the
shooting and unequivocally identified Lee as the killer. Lees long-time friend Allen
Bates testified that he saw Lee pull the gun, looked away, heard a
gunshot fired from the area where Lee was standing, looked back, and saw
Lee still holding the gun. Both Mike Quintanilla and Nick Fuller were
briefly introduced to Lee at the party, and later saw Lee shoot Wallace.
Without pausing to mention the details of testimony given by others who attended
the party, we count at least seven different witnesses who either specifically identified
Lee as the shooter, or gave descriptions that matched Lees appearance in most
respects. This evidence goes well beyond the requisite minimum of probative evidence
from which a reasonable trier of fact could infer guilt beyond a reasonable
Dickson, Sullivan, Boehm, and Rucker, JJ., concur.