Cohen and Thiros
Attorneys for Appellee
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Attorney General of Indiana
Thomas D. Perkins
Deputy Attorney General
STATE OF INDIANA,
Appellee (Respondent below).
) Supreme Court No.
) Court of Appeals No.
November 2, 2000
The only other witness to the shooting, Mr. Amin, a United States postal
bserved the shooting as he stood nearby on the street. His
testimony throughout was that the shooting occurred as the vehicles were stopped in
the middle of the street with their engines running.See footnote
Finally, a crime scene technician testified that in his opinion the vehicles were moving when the shots were fired, but defense counsel pointed out on re-cross that the technicians original report stated the vehicles were either stopped or in front of 833 Sibley Street. Ne ither Williams nor Allen, the shooter, testified.
After the shooting, it was undisputed that Williams quickly drove to his
home in Gary, Indiana, and parked the Geo in the garage. Williams
then switched the convertible top from black to white. Believing that Allen
would be the only one charged as the shooter, Gaines told police about
the incident the next day.
On February 20, 1991, Williams was charged with the attempted murder
Spotten. On November 7, 1991, a jury convicted Williams and he was
sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Williams appealed his conviction, claiming,
inter alia, that the trial court committed fundamental
in not instructing the jury regarding the elements of attempted murder.
The Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction. Williams v. State, No. 45A03-9210-CR-328
(Ind. Ct. App. June 17, 1993) (mem.). This Court denied transfer on
November 4, 1993, thus ending Williamss direct appeal.
On January 19, 1995, Williams filed his amended petition for post-conviction relief again claiming fundamental error in the attempted murder instruction. In his petition, Wi lliams cited two decisions from this Court where we found fundamental error in an identical instruction. See footnote In denying the petition for post-conviction relief, the post-conviction court turned to the Court of Appealss previous ruling on the issue of fundamental error and determined that Williamss claim was res judicata.
On August 10, 1999, the Court of Appeals affirmed the post-conviction trial courts
denial of Williamss petition for post-conviction relief.
Williams v. State, 715 N.E.2d
882, 888 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999). The Court of Appeals acknowledged that
it had been incorrect to reject Williamss Spradlin claim on direct appeal, but
it nevertheless held that Williams was not entitled to relief because, as an
accomplice, Williamss intent was not an issue, id., and so the Spradlin rule
was not implicated.
To convict the defendant of the crime of attempted murder, the State must
have proved the following elements:
1. The defendant
knowingly or intentionally
2. took a substantial step to accomplish
knowing or intentional killing of Scott Spotten.
We have consistently held that this form of attempted murder instruction misinforms a
jury as to the appropriate mens rea and thus constitutes fundamental error.
See, e.g., Metcalfe v. State, 715 N.E.2d 1236, 1237 (Ind. 1999) (Fundamental Spradlin
error consisted of an instruction informing the jury that a knowingly mens rea
was sufficient to establish guilt of attempted murder.); Wilson v. State, 644 N.E.2d
555, 556 (Ind. 1994) (Fundamental Spradlin error consisted of a an instruction informing
the jury that a knowingly or intentionally mens rea was sufficient to establish
guilt of attempted murder.); Beasley v. State, 643 N.E.2d 346, 347 (Ind. 1994)
(knowingly or intentionally); Greer v. State, 643 N.E.2d 324, 325 (Ind. 1994) (knowingly
or intentionally); Simmons v. State, 642 N.E.2d 511, 511 (Ind. 1994) (knowingly or
intentionally); Taylor v. State, 616 N.E.2d 748, 749 (Ind. 1993) (knowingly); Hill v.
State, 615 N.E.2d 97, 98 (Ind. 1993) (knowingly or intentionally); Woodcox v. State,
591 N.E.2d 1019, 1023 (Ind. 1992) (knowingly).
And although there have been cases where, despite clear
Spradlin error, we did
not vacate an attempted murder conviction because (i) the intent of the perpetrator
was not a central issue at trial;
(ii) the instructions as a whole
sufficiently suggested the requirement of intent to kill;
or (iii) both,
not the case here.
To the contrary, Williamss intent as a non-shooting accomplice was seriously di sputed at trial, where the jury heard evidence that (1) no one was aware that Allen would impulsively fire the shotgun from the backseat; (2) the two shotgun blasts were delivered in rapid succession; and (3) the vehicles were idle and stopped on the side of the street. Moreover, nowhere in the instructions was there any statement sufficiently informing the jury of the States burden of proving that Williams specifically intended to kill Scott Spotten. See footnote
Despite this rather straightforward case of reversible
Spradlin error, the Court of Appeals
erroneously concluded in June of 1993 that no fundamental error had occurred.
Williams v. State, No. 45A03-9210-CR-328 (Ind. Ct. App. June 17, 1993) (mem.), transfer
denied. We can only attribute this incorrect ruling as we have
on other occasions to the admitted confusion surrounding the proper standard for
attempted murder jury instructions, which existed during this time. See, e.g., Arthur
v. State, 663 N.E.2d 529, 531 (Ind. 1996) (At the time of the
first Court of Appeals decision, this court had decided Spradlin but had not
expressly overruled Worley and Santana. Thus, some confusion remained on the standard
for attempted murder jury instructions.).
We do not revisit these previous rulings as to fundamental error for improperly
nstructing the jury on the elements of attempted murder and the Court of
Appealss application of the doctrine of res judicata to them. Instead, we
address Williamss continuing argument made in both his direct and post-conviction appeals
that the jury instructions failed to address the legal issue of accomplice
liability in an attempted murder prosecution,
and Court of Appeals holding on this
issue that Williams intent was not an issue because he was convicted as
an accomplice. Williams, 715 N.E.2d at 888.
Bethel, a jury found the defendant guilty of multiple counts of attempted
robbery, robbery, and attempted murder for his participation in a two-man crime spree.
On appeal, Bethel challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting two of his
four attempted murder convictions, contending that as a non-shooting accomplice, he did not
knowingly or intentionally aide, induce, or cause the principal shooter to attempt either
In reversing and vacating both attempted murder convictions, we employed a two-part analysis.
First, we determined whether the evidence was sufficient to establish that the
ncipal, acting with the intent to kill, took a substantial step toward killing
either crime spree victim. Id. at 1245. As to the first
victim, we found that the principals intent to kill was not established beyond
a reasonable doubt, thus Bethels attempted murder conviction under an accomplice liability theory
likewise could not stand.
We did, however, find sufficient evidence of the principals intent to kill the
second crime spree victim, thereby continuing on to the second half of the
required two-part anal
Because we find sufficient evidence of [the principals] intent to kill [the second victim], we must consider the defendants claim that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he knowingly or intentionally aided, induced, or caused [the principal] to commit the attempted murder of [the second victim]. The accomplice liability statute permits a defendant to be found guilty as an accomplice without the jury finding that the defendant committed every element of the crime when that defendant knowingly or intentionally aids, induces, or causes another person to commit an offense. Ind. Code § 35-41-2-4. For many crimes, it is sufficient to prove that a defendant either knowingly or intentionally performed a prohibited act. It is well settled, however, that a conviction for attempted murder requires proof of specific intent to kill. See Spradlin v. State, 569 N.E.2d 948, 950 (Ind. 1991). The issue becomes then, what must be proven in order to show that the defendant knowingly or intentionally aided the commission of a crime requiring specific intent for conviction?
In light of Spradlins requirement that attempted murder be established by proof of specific intent to kill, we find that, in order to establish that a defendant aided, induced, or caused an accomplice to commit attempted murder, the State must prove that the defendant, with the specific intent that the killing occur, knowingly or intentionally aided, induced, or caused [the principal] to commit the crime of attempted murder. Thus, to convict for the offense of aiding an attempted murder, the State must prove: (1) that the [principal], acting with the specific intent to kill, took a substantial step toward the commission of murder, and (2) that the defendant, acting with the specific intent that the killing occur, knowingly or intentionally aided, induced, or caused the [principal] to commit the crime of attempted murder.
Id. at 1245-46 (emphases added).
Therefore, the jury in Williamss case was misinformed in two critical respects, the combination of which unacceptably lessened the States burden of proof. First and foremost, the jury was not properly instructed as to the basic elements of attempted murder. This issue has been argued and decided adverse to Williams (albeit wrongly) such that it is res judicata. Williams v. State, No. 45A03-9210-CR-328, slip op. at 5 (Ind. Ct. App. June 17, 1993) (mem.) (Accordingly, the instructions in the present case adequately included a finding that Williams, not just [the principal,] Allen, had a specific intent to kill the victim. No error occurred.).
Second, the jury was never instructed that it had to find that Williams, as a non-shooting accomplice, acted with the specific intent to kill the victim. Instead, it was instructed that to find Williams guilty of aiding an attempted murder, it need only determine that he knowingly or intentionally aid[ed], induce[d], or cause[d] another person to commit the crime of attempted murder. (R. at 58; Final Instruction No. 8) (emphasis added). While this was a correct statement of the law as it generally pertained to accomplice liability, it fell significantly short of adequately instructing the jury in this case given that the trial court had already failed to instruct on the basic elements of attempted murder.
In the typical attempted murder prosecution involving an armed robbery or some other
criminal enterprise gone awry, the accomplice is criminally liable for the acts done
by [the accomplices] confederates which were a probable and natural consequence of their
common plan, and the intent to kill is properly inferred from the knife-wielding
or shooting principal.
Bonds v. State, 721 N.E.2d 1238, 1242 (Ind. 1999)
(quoting Edgecomb v. State, 673 N.E.2d 1185, 1193 (Ind. 1986)). But this
is not the typical case. Here, a chance encounter led to the
spontaneous firing of two shots from the back seat of Williamss automobile, and
the instructions as a whole never informed the jury that either the backseat
principal or Williams had to possess the specific intent to kill the victim.
We have recognized the inherent ambiguity in attempted murder prosecutions and the need to instruct juries precisely as to the correct level of culpability. Richeson v. State, 704 N.E.2d 1008, 1010 (Ind. 1998) (In many attempted murder cases, however, the victim, the result, or both, are more difficult to ascertain. A drive-by shooting is the paradigm problematic attempted murder case. In such cases it is often unclear whether the defendant intended to murder or to batter, whether he knew of a high probability of death or a touching, or whether he simply recklessly disregarded either.). And both the level of ambiguity and the corresponding need for precise jury instructions significantly increase in a prosecution for aiding an attempted murder.
Williams was entitled to have the jury instructed correctly on an essential rule of law. See Hill v. State, 615 N.E.2d 97, 99 (Ind. 1993). And a s Bethel reinforces, the requirements of Spradlin equally apply to those on trial for attempted murder and for aiding an attempted murder. Bethel, 730 N.E.2d at 1246.
Although Williams has
consistently argued that his intent as an accomplice could not
be imputed from the principals actions given that [n]
one of the instructions tell
the jury that Williams must have the specific intent to kill
Brief at 13 (Direct Appeal) (filed Dec. 23, 1992),
the Court of Appeals
never expressly ruled on this issue in the course of deciding Williamss direct
Williams v. State, No. 45A03-9210-CR-328, slip op. at 5.
And in retrospect, the Court of Appeals could not have issued a secondary
ruling incorrect or otherwise addressing the requirement of specific intent in
the accomplice liability instructions given that the court had failed to recognize Spradlin
as controlling precedent for requiring specific intent in the attempted murder instruction.
It is difficult if not impossible to see how Williams received a fair trial when the jury could have convicted him of knowingly (rather than intentionally) aiding the principal in knowingly (rather than intentionally) attempting to kill Scott Spotten. As such, we now hold that the trial court committed fundamental error in not instructing the jury that it had to find that Williams possessed the specific intent to kill when he knowingly or intentionally aided, induced, or caused his backseat accomplice to commit the crime of attempted murder. Cf. Bethel, 730 N.E.2d at 1246 (In light of Spradlins requirement that attempted murder be established by proof of specific intent to kill, we find that, in order to establish that a defendant aided, induced, or caused an accomplice to commit attempted murder, the State must prove that the defendant, with the specific intent that the killing occur, knowingly or intentionally aided, induced, or caused his accomplice to commit the crime of attempted murder.). See footnote
Because we cannot say that Williams did not suffer harm as a result
of the compound error associated with not instructing the jury as to specific
intent of either principal or a
ccomplice, we vacate Williamss conviction under an accomplice
liability theory for attempted murder.
Q: Where did you first notice the vehicles, where did they first come to
A: Well, see, I was about four houses down from where they were parked. I just seen them you know.
Q: They were parked or moving?
A: They were parked.
A: Not parked, but they were just still, but I could seen them running.
* * *
Q: Okay. Why dont you tell me when and if you were able to see who was driving that Geo Tracker?
A: Well, I had heard like two pops, like pop-pop. And then the Geo took off and when it took off, it was like a stop sign right on that corner.
(R. at 143-44.)
Here, the evidence demonstrates that Williams turned his vehicle around to pursue Spotten.
He then requested his gun. After Allen stated that he would
do it, Williams drove his vehicle at a pace to remain parallel with
Spottens vehicle. Once Allen had shot at Spotten, Williams did not brake
or request that Allen stop his actions. Instead, Williams continued to drive
at the same pace while Allen pumped the gun a second time and
shot Spotten. After the shooting, Williams did not stop to assist Spotten.
Rather, Williams drove away from the scene quickly. He parked the
Geo in the garage and switched the convertible top to one of another
. . . .
The evidence is sufficient to support the conviction.
Williams v. State, No. 45A03-9210-CR-328, slip op. at 5-6 (emphasis added).
To convict the defendants, the State must have proved each of the following
1. knowingly or intentionally
2. strike, stab and cut the body of Robert Grubbs
3. that the conduct was a substantial step toward the commission of
the crime of murder.
If the State failed to prove each of these elements, you should find
the defendants not guilty.
If the State did prove each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt,
you should find the defendants guilty of the crime of Attempted Murder, a
Class A felony.
Id. at 950-51 (emphasis added).