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Family of murdered mother upset plea agreement in the works for second suspect in case

Martha Cronkhite found dead in east side basement
Posted at 3:44 PM, Jan 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-22 17:35:50-05

INDIANAPOLIS— The family of murdered mother of two Martha Cronkhite is concerned the second suspect in the case will also receive a plea deal this week.

“I feel like Martha is just another file in a folder,” said Lori, Martha’s sister.  “We need to have a trial and have a jury make the decision.”

Martha Cronkhite’s family is speaking out for the first time about the case in a sit down interview Monday with Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney.

Cronkhite was found beaten and shot to death in the basement of an East 18th Street home in July 2015.

Two suspects were arrested and charged with Cronkhite’ s murder, Stephen Jones, and Candace Looper.

Court documents said Cronkhite was killed in a fight involving drugs and money.

“She was trying to get help,” said Dunn. “It’s not fair to take away somebody’s life because you’re upset with them.”

Stephen Jones reached a plea agreement in 2017 with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to assisting a criminal, and the murder charge was dismissed.

Jones’ earliest release date from state prison is October 24, 2022, records show.

The second suspect, Candace Looper, is in the process of reaching a plea agreement, according to Martha Cronkhite’s family.

Looper is scheduled for a change of plea hearing on January 17.

Court records show Stephen Jones heard Looper threaten to kill Martha Cronkhite at the bottom of the basement steps.

“He saw Candace was holding Martha by her hair, and Candace had the gun pointed at Martha’s head,” read the probable cause affidavit for Candace Looper. “Stephen heard what he thought was a gunshot. Then as he walked back into the house, Stephen said he heard another gunshot.”

Jones was expected to testify against Candace Looper, according to Martha Cronkhite’ s family.

They feel both Jones and Looper are getting off easy, and have pleaded with prosecutors to take the case to court.

“Our family would like to see it go to trial,” said Lisa Cronkhite, Martha’s other sister. “We feel there is enough evidence and enough witnesses.  I just want justice for my sister.”

Martha’s family fears Candace Looper will be out of prison in a few years, just like Stephen Jones.

“Justice isn’t going to be served unless she gets a longer period of time,” said Lori. “A life for a life.  She took a life.”

Call 6 Investigates contacted Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry’s office, and they declined to comment prior to a plea being accepted by the court.

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

Call 6 Investigates sat down with Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry last year 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."

Martha Cronkhite’s are hoping prosecutors and Candace Looper herself will reconsider making a plea deal.

“Martha is probably really upset they took her from her babies,” said Lisa Cronkhite. “She loved her kids a lot.”

Martha Cronkhite’s mother is now caring for the children, who are now 10 and 13 years old.

“It’s just hard to look at them and know they don’t have their mom,” said Lisa Cronkhite.  “I would love to know the honest truth as to what happened to my sister.”

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