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Murderer Andrew Conley loses appeal
Written by Chandra L. Mattingly   
Wednesday, August 01, 2012 12:21 PM

Click here to read the court's decision.

In a 3-2 decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction of life without parole for Andrew Conley, the Ohio County teen who murdered his 10-year-old brother.

Conley, then 17 ½, confessed to the November 28, 2009, crime, pleading guilty to murdering Conner while babysitting the younger boy. The boys' mother and Andrew Conley's stepfather were at work at the time.

Ohio Circuit Court Judge James Humphrey ordered the sentence after five days of a sentencing hearing, including the testimony of 12 witnesses and 155 exhibits, noted the decision written by appeals court Justice Steven H. David Tuesday, July 31.

“We hold that based on the age of Conner, and the particularly heinous nature of the crime, a sentence of life without parole was appropriate. We hold that on the facts of this case, the sentence of life without parole is constitutional,” said the opinion.

As summarized in the opinion, Conley wanted to go out that evening and took Conner to their grandmother's home in Rising Sun, but she was not home. Conley asked his uncle to babysit but was told no. Back home, the two boys began wrestling.

At some point, Conley choked his brother in a headlock until Conner passed out, bleeding from the nose and mouth, but still breathing. Conley dragged the younger child to the kitchen and continued to choke him for about 20 minutes total. The teen then put a plastic bag over Conner's head and dragged him down steps to the outdoors, slammed his head on concrete multiple times, and placed the body in the trunk of a car, reviewed the opinion.

After cleaning up and concealing the bloody clothes, Conley drove to his girlfriend's house, watched a movie and gave her a promise ring. The girlfriend testified at the hearing that Conley was happier than she had seen him in a long time. Two hours later, during which the body remained in the trunk of Conley's car, the teen drove to an area behind Rising Sun Middle School, dragged the body into the woods and covered it with sticks and vegetation.

At home, Conley acted normally, according to his stepfather's video testimony. Yet after his stepfather fell asleep, Conley went into the bedroom and stood over him with a knife, intending to kill him but deciding not to, by his own testimony.

That Sunday evening, Conley went to the Rising Sun Police Department and reported he “accidentally” killed his brother. He later confessed to intentionally killing the younger boy.

The Indiana appeals court opinion considered four issues, whether the trial court erred in allowing testimony of Dr. James Daum who suggested Conley had the traits of a person with a psychopathic personality; whether the trial court properly weighed aggravating and mitigating factors; whether the sentence was appropriate; and whether a life without parole sentence imposed upon a person under 18 convicted of murder violated either the United States or Indiana Constitution.

The constitutional implications of life without parole for a 17-year-old, referring to a recent United States Supreme Court Decision holding that a mandatory sentencing scheme of life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

The appeals court decision affirmed Humphrey allowing Daum to testify; noted Humphrey agve a detailed appraisal of each mitigating circumstance as he weighed them against the sole aggravator of Conner's youth; said “the sentence of life without parole was appropriate in light of the defendant's character and the nature of this offense;” and affirmed its constitutionality.

Referring to other states' provisions, the decision says the “overwhelming majority provide for the possibility of life without parole sentences to individuals under the age of 18.”

“... The legislature has made a policy decision that this is what we want to do. The Eleventh Circuit has written, 'The death penalty is not required to deter juveniles from committing murder because a life without parole sentence is deterrence enough, particularly for a juvenile.'”

If retribution was the goal, as Conley's appeal argued, life without parole would be used far more frequently in Indiana, said the decision. Yet Conley was only the fourth juvenile sentenced to life without parole in the state.

“Life without parole is reserved for use in the most heinous of crimes that so shock our conscious as a community,” wrote David.

“This was a drawn out crime. Conner suffered unimaginable horror,” said the opinion. “... This was death by the hands of the person in charge of protecting Conner.”

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent E. Dickson and Mark S. Massa concurred; Justice Robert D. Rucker dissented in a separate opinion with which Justice Frank Sullivan, Jr. concurred. Dickson, quoting the case of Roper v. Simmons, said he could not conclude that Conley is “one of those rare juveniles” who commit a crime that “reflects irreparable corruption.”

For that reason, wrote Dickson, he would revise Conley's sentence to the maximum of 65 years.

Asked if the split decision might indicate state and national courts are leaning toward more lenient treatment of juveniles, Weissmann said it seems that they are. A recent decision by the United State Supreme Court ruled that mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles convicted of murder are unconstitutional.

“It seems that they're trying to send a message that life without parole should be a rare thing,” she said.

“We are the only country in the world that will sentence a child to life in prison. … I find that sad,” she added.

As for Conley, “his appeals are not over,” she said, indicating there are other appeal processes. But as a practical matter, another attorney will be assigned the case, said Weissmann.

Last Updated on Wednesday, August 01, 2012 8:23 PM


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