INDIANAPOLIS — Marion County Superior Court Judge Mark Stoner will not step down from presiding over the murder case against the man accused of killing IMPD Officer Breann Leath.
On Thursday, Stoner denied a motion filed by Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears asking him to recuse himself from presiding over the death penalty trial of Elliahs Dorsey.
In court documents filed last week, Mears argued that the judge showed "bias and prejudice" against the state during a recent hearing.
Leath and three other Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers were answering a domestic disturbance call at an east-side apartment complex near 21st Street and Shadeland Avenue when they knocked on a door on April 9, 2020.
Prosecutors say Dorsey fired shots through the closed door, striking Leath. She died of two gunshots to the head. Dorsey also shot and wounded a woman who tried to run from the apartment, prosecutors say.
At issue is whether Dorsey knew Leath was a police officer when he allegedly fired those fatal shots.
This knowledge is vital in a death penalty case, which requires "super due process" to be afforded to defendants who could face the ultimate punishment if found guilty, Stoner said during a hearing on March 17.
In his motion, Mears said Stoner indicated that he would drop death penalty charges unless the state provides evidence that Dorsey knew Leath was a police officer.
The prosecutor objects to having to present this evidence before the case goes in front of a jury.
According to Mears, Stoner went further by noting that he feared the prosecutors may have filed death penalty charges knowing they didn't have the proper evidence as a way to leverage Dorsey into accepting a plea deal.
"Certainly, a court’s indication that it intends to rule against the state is not in and of itself grounds for recusal," Mears said in the motion. "Instead, the court here has indicated that it believes that a ruling against the state is effectively the same as finding that the state acted unethically or in bad faith."
Stoner, in his order, said Dorsey's lawyers raised the possible ethical violations in a March 15 motion and said he has a duty to address the issue.
"The court did not put the state in this position," Stoner wrote. "The state has a duty to comply with the Rules of Professional Responsibility at all times."
Prosecutors, Stoner added, are free to appeal if they disagree with his ruling on the death penalty charge.
Stoner said he hadn't yet reviewed the exhibits and caselaw provided by the parties relating to the death penalty in this case, but he noted that "a recusal motion made in anticipation of an adverse ruling is inappropriate."
Dorsey has been charged with murder, four counts of attempted murder, criminal confinement and battery. A jury trial is scheduled for Sept. 18.
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @vicryc.
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