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Lewis v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

June 17, 2015

ROBERT LEWIS III, Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE OF INDIANA, Appellee (Plaintiff below)

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Appeal from the Lake County Superior Court, No. 45G03-1104-MR-3. The Honorable Diane Ross Boswell, Judge.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: Marce Gonzalez, Jr., Dyer, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; Henry A. Flores, Jr., Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Massa, Justice. Rush, C.J., and Dickson, Rucker, and David, JJ., concur.


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Massa, Justice.

Robert Lewis III brings this direct appeal after a jury convicted him of the murder of Jennifer Kocsis, murder in the perpetration of criminal deviate conduct, criminal deviate conduct, and resisting law enforcement. Lewis challenges various aspects of the proceedings below, including the admission of certain evidence, the adequacy of the jury instructions, and his sentence of life without the possibility of parole. We find no reversible error with respect to the convictions and affirm, but we reverse the sentencing determination and remand to the trial court for a sentencing order containing a personal statement from the judge that life without possibility of parole is the appropriate sentence for Lewis, consistent with Harrison v. State, 644 N.E.2d 1243 (Ind. 1995) and Pittman v. State, 885 N.E.2d 1246 (Ind. 2008).

Facts and Procedural History

On April Fool's Day, Lewis invited his friend, Rodney Taylor, to Pepe's Restaurant and Bar in Griffith, Indiana. Taylor picked up Lewis at his mother's home in Gary (Lewis's residence at the time) and drove them to Pepe's to drink and socialize. When Taylor wanted to leave before Lewis, Lewis said he would " find a way home," and Taylor left. Tr. at 235.

Lewis stayed at the bar, where he repeatedly asked Rebeca Hixon, a fellow patron, if she wanted to go home and " f**k." Tr. at 235-36. When Hixon declined,

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Lewis became angry, pulled her hair away from her face, and demanded that she look at him. Hixon asked Tracey Harris, a waitress at Pepe's, to distract Lewis so she could leave. Hixon got away safely, at which point Lewis began pursuing Harris. Lewis repeatedly asked Harris if she would take him home so they could " f**k." Tr. at 306-08. At one point he pulled Harris by her pant-leg in an attempt to bring her closer to him. Eventually, Lewis turned his attention to Jennifer Kocsis, a regular at Pepe's. Lewis persuaded Kocsis to give him a ride home by lying about his address, indicating it was close to where Kocsis lived in Griffith, and they left together shortly after 2:00 a.m.

At 2:37 a.m., Lewis called his girlfriend Chakole Spurlock and asked her to pick him up near his mother's home in Gary. When she arrived, Lewis was carrying and wearing clothing covered with wet, fresh blood. As they drove away, Lewis separately threw each of his bloody shoes out the window. At Lewis's request, he and Spurlock went to a hotel in Merrillville, checking in around 4:00 a.m. Over the next few hours, Lewis made multiple sexual advances toward Spurlock, which she rejected. They then left the motel together, retrieved the discarded shoes, and in an alley near Spurlock's home set fire to the bloody clothing, the shoes, and Kocsis's car keys.

Later that morning, Kocsis was discovered brutally beaten to death in the parking lot of an abandoned school in Gary. The official cause of death was " multiple blunt-force injuries and manual strangulation." Tr. at 766. Kocsis also suffered cranial hemorrhages, a broken nose, jaw, and hyoid bone, multiple lacerations to the face and back of the head, injuries to the neck, throat, and larynx, and several contusions and scrapes to the hands, knees, and collarbone. There was also a shoe print on her arm.

Kocsis's skirt and underpants were around her knees, and there was a hand-shaped bruise or blood stain on her buttocks. Police found DNA not belonging to Kocsis on the outside of her anus. A second swab, which was inserted through her anus (but without first cleaning the outside) found the same DNA. While initial presumptive testing was positive for semen, the confirmatory test was inconclusive, and thus the DNA may have come from semen, skin, sweat, blood, or saliva. Kocsis's anus did not appear to have been penetrated, and there was no evidence of injury to the anus. Police also found Kocsis's car about four blocks away. Part of one of her teeth was embedded in the exterior of her car, and there was blood on the steering wheel.

Through security camera footage from Pepe's and witness statements, police identified Lewis as a suspect in Kocsis's murder. While police were in the neighborhood of Lewis's mother's home, they saw Lewis quickly exit the home, jump in his car, and drive off, escalating into a high-speed police chase which at times exceeded 90 miles per hour. Lewis eventually stopped himself and was peaceably taken into custody.

Lewis was charged with murder, felony murder, robbery, criminal deviate conduct, and resisting law enforcement. DNA testing confirmed Lewis's blood was on the steering wheel of Kocsis's car. Although the DNA in and around Kocsis's anus could not be positively matched to Lewis, multiple laboratory procedures were unable to exclude him, and only one out of approximately 423,000 African Americans would fit the genetic profiles found. The shoe print on Kocsis's arm matched the tread on the bottom of Lewis's

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burned sneakers, recovered from the alley near Spurlock's home.

After a two-week trial, a jury convicted Lewis of all charges except robbery. The jury was subsequently unable to agree on a sentence; as a result, the trial court set a sentencing hearing,[1] where the following exchange occurred with respect to the Court's sentencing options:

[Defense counsel]: I actually have, among other things, a list of a number of cases where the Judge ended up imposing a term of years.
THE COURT: Uh-huh.
[Defense counsel]: Instead of imposing either the death sentence or life without the possibility of parole, even though the aggravating factors were found. Wilkes, as I said, clearly makes it clear that the Court consider these things.
Now, why if the--why if the Court found those aggravating factors would they turn around and say, well, once the Judge made those ...

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