CALL 6: Only 3% of major felony cases go to jury trial, records show

Most criminals reach plea agreements
Posted at 7:15 PM, Aug 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-10 12:01:03-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- New numbers obtained by Call 6 Investigates show 3 percent of major felony cases make it to a jury trial in Marion County.

Back in January, Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney asked the Marion County Prosecutor’s office to provide the agency’s statistics on how many cases settle out of court.

In late July, the Marion County Prosecutor’s office provided the information.

Of the 3,637 major felony cases resolved in 2016, 75 percent involved a plea agreement, 15 percent were dismissed, 7 percent ended in a bench trial, and only 3 percent resolved through a jury trial.

Major felony cases include more serious crimes such as murder, robbery, burglary and sex offenses, but do not include D felonies under the old code or level 6 felonies under the new criminal code.

The 2,719 plea agreements reached in 2016 include Richmond Hill suspects Monserrate Shirley, Gary Thompson and Glenn Hults who are now serving prison time for their role in the deadly explosion.

RELATED | Monserrate Shirley sentenced to 50 years in prison for Richmond Hill explosion | Plea agreement filed for Richmond Hill explosion suspect | Final Richmond Hill suspect reaches plea deal for role in 2012 explosion | Final Richmond Hill suspect sentenced to prison

Call 6 Investigates sat down with Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry on Wednesday to discuss the plea agreement and trial numbers.

"People think ‘oh, that guy got a break because he got a plea bargain’," said Curry.  “Some in the public think it’s a negative thing, and I think it starts with using the term plea deal or plea bargain.”

Curry said just because someone reaches a plea, does not necessarily mean they’re getting a lighter sentence or even a lesser charge.

“The majority of these cases involved a guilty plea to the lead charge,” said Curry.

Curry explained if someone is charged with burglary and theft, for example, and the suspect pleads guilty to burglary and the theft charge is dismissed, it would have no negative impact on the sentence because the theft sentence would have had to run concurrently with the burglary sentence.

Prosecutors consider a slew of factors when deciding whether to take a case to trial including whether witnesses and victims could be traumatized by testimony and evidence presented at trial, and how likely they could get an entire jury to convict the suspect.

“We have to look at what is realistic,” said Curry. “You learn there’s no such thing as a slam dunk case. Taking cases to trial, we're going to lose some, it's just a fact of life."

Conviction rates were not immediately available Wednesday, but the office is working to compile those figures.

“We're actually pretty proud of our record in trials," said Curry.

Curry said a benefit to plea agreements it the “certainty of the result,” as well as the suspect admitting to the crime.

"That is a significant consideration,” said Curry. “Someone is going to accept responsibility and be held accountable."

Curry said many criminals plead guilty through a plea agreement in the hopes that the judge will take that into consideration during sentencing.

“They’re doing themselves a favor by accepting responsibility,” said Curry.

Curry also points out the county’s six felony courts couldn’t handle every single case going to trial.

“It’s not uncommon for us to have four major felony juries going at once,” said Curry. “At one point, we had three murder trials going in a week. We won them all.”

Curry said with regard to the numbers on plea agreements and trials, Curry said the numbers are consistent year to year.

He said cases can be dismissed for a myriad of reasons, including cases being referred for federal prosecution, the defendant dying, evidence problems, and witnesses disappearing or refusing to cooperate.

Curry said his office has greatly improved their technology so they can quickly run statistics on plea agreements, trials and other outcomes.

The prosecutor’s office provided the following three examples of cases in which the suspect reached a plea agreement, but received a significant prison sentence.         

  • Kenneth Rackemann – Plead to four consecutive life sentences in 2016 – Quadruple murder that occurred in 2014. His three co-defendants also plead guilty for their roles in the crime, including Valencia Williams who plead guilty to one count of murder.
  • Isaiah Hill – Plead to 100 years -- This was the final defendant in the violent home invasion that took place near E. 79th St. and College in 2013. Four other defendants were convicted by a jury in 2014 and a fifth plead guilty in 2015.
  • Brandon Collins – Plead to 20 years for fatal hit and run – The 2013 crash occurred at the intersection of East 46th Street and North Emerson Ave. Collins ran a red light at the intersection, striking a 15-passenger church van transporting children. The van’s driver, Edward Sadler, was killed during the crash.