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Justices Weigh Reinstating Conviction in Two-Year-Old’s Death

(INDIANAPOLIS) — Prosecutors are trying to reinstate a teenager’s murder conviction in the death of a two-year-old boy.

Tyre Bradbury didn’t fire a shot, but prosecutors say he acquired the guns for a 2014 gang confrontation in a South Bend park. A stray bullet killed two-year-old John Swoveland Junior as he was playing in his front yard.

A divided Court of Appeals ordered a new trial last year the jury should have been able to consider reckless homicide instead of murder. That would have meant a maximum of 16 years. Instead, Bradbury was sentenced to 90 years, reduced to 60 on a first round of appeals.

At oral arguments, the Indiana Supreme Court appeared more skeptical. Justice Mark Massa said Bradbury’s original lawyer successfully argued against a charge of aiding and abetting, which would have been easier to prove and carries the same sentence. Instead, prosecutors had to prove Bradbury went forward intending to kill someone or knowing it was likely. “That seems to me really good lawyering,” Massa said.

Justice Steve David said he’s “nervous” about the prospect of requiring a lesser charge as an option. He says that could apply in virtually any case.

Deputy attorney general Justin Roebel argued longstanding precedent says courts shouldn’t second-guess a defense atttorney’s strategy, because there are too many valid strategic choices to insist on one. One established strategy is an “all or nothing” strategy of excluding a lesser charge, betting that the jury will be unwilling to convict on a charge it thinks is out of proportion to the offense.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush cut off appellate attorney John Kindley’s suggestion that the strategy wasn’t a deliberate choice. She noted the first judge on the appeal also presided over the trial and saw it firsthand. And she pointed out the jury concluded there was enough evidence to justify the heavier charge. Kindley argued jurors don’t make that kind of legal distinction, but may have reasoned Bradbury needed to be held accountable for the toddler’s death.

The gunman also received a 60-year sentence. Five other accomplices received sentences ranging from four to 35 years.

As always, there’s no indication when the justices will rule.

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