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Wahl v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

June 30, 2015

Daniel P. Wahl, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

Appeal from the Hamilton Superior Court. The Honorable Gail Z. Bardach, Judge. Cause No. 29D06-1309-FD-7823.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: Lawrence D. Newman, Newman & Newman, P.C., Noblesville, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; Michael Gene Worden, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Riley, Judge. Barnes, J. concurs. Bailey, J. dissents with separate opinion.

OPINION

Riley, Judge

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

[¶1] Appellant-Defendant, Daniel Wahl (Wahl), appeals his conviction for involuntary manslaughter, a Class D felony, Ind. Code § 35-42-1-4 (2013).

[¶2] We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶3] Wahl raises four issues on appeal which we restate as:

(1) Whether the State presented sufficient evidence to sustain Wahl's involuntary manslaughter conviction;
(2) Whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying Wahl's motion to correct error regarding jury misconduct;
(3) Whether Wahl's sentence is appropriate; and
(4) Whether the trial court abused its discretion by ordering Wahl to pay restitution.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

[¶4] In the spring of 2011, Danny (Danny) and Jocelyne DiRienzo (collectively, the DiRienzos) began searching for a daycare for their minor children, D.D., and A.D. The DiRienzos were referred to Wahl and his wife, Saundra (collectively, the Wahls), who ran a State-licensed daycare facility out of their home basement in Fishers, Indiana. After touring the daycare facility, the DiRienzos selected the Wahls to provide child care services to both of their children.

[¶5] In 2003, the Wahls built their home with the primary intention of operating a daycare facility from their basement. Shortly thereafter, the Wahls were licensed, and for ten years, they operated a daycare business under the name " Home Away from Home Child Care." In establishing their roles as child care providers, the Wahls determined that Saundra would be responsible for toddlers ranging from five months to two years, while Wahl would be responsible for the older children.

[¶6] In June of 2013, A.D. was a healthy, twenty-month-old toddler. On June 20, 2013, as usual for their day, Wahl had taken the older children to the backyard to eat and play. While Wahl was outside with the older children, Saundra remained inside with the toddlers for feeding. Because the older children were outside, Saundra removed a compression gate between the kitchen area and the toddlers' sleeping area in the basement to allow the small children to move and play freely between the two rooms. In addition, Saundra also placed a child in the highchair in the kitchen for feeding and walked back to the kitchen sink to warm bottles.

[¶7] The record shows that in addition to the compression gate that divided the toddlers' sleeping area and a play area adjoining the kitchen, there was a white metal security gate placed in the basement hallway. The white metal security gate was positioned so as to prevent the children from accessing the stairway leading to the first floor.[1] As Saundra was standing in the kitchen, she heard the white metal security gate being " jingled." (Transcript p. 405). Immediately, Saundra walked over to inspect. There, she found A.D. and another child playing with the gate. Saundra removed and placed both children across the room, admonished them, and returned to the kitchen to retrieve the child she had left in the highchair, and to grab a bottle.

[¶8] From the kitchen, only a portion of the white metal security gate was visible. As Saundra was lifting the child from the highchair, she saw the child that A.D. had been playing with had passed the white metal security gate. Saundra immediately placed the baby she was carrying on the floor and rushed towards the gate. Like the other toddler, A.D. had breached the gate; however, as A.D. was returning to the play area adjoining the kitchen, his head became trapped between the latch end of the gate and the wall. At first, Saundra thought A.D. was okay since his eyes were open. Saundra freed A.D. from the white metal security gate, and noticed that A.D. was unresponsive and not breathing. Promptly, Saundra began performing CPR on A.D. As she was doing that, she saw two older children who had been out in the yard, and she requested them to call Wahl. The children did not comprehend, so Saundra momentarily left A.D. on the floor, rushed to the base of the stairway, and yelled for assistance. Moments later, Wahl re-entered the basement, intercepted the CPR process and asked Saundra to call 911. Within minutes, the Fishers Police Department arrived followed by the paramedics. A.D. was then transported to Community North Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:59 p.m. The following day, the autopsy showed that A.D. had died from asphyxiation.

[¶9] On September 19, 2013, the State filed an Information charging the Wahls[2] with involuntary manslaughter, a Class D felony, I.C. § 35-42-1-4 (2013). At trial, Detective James Hawkins (Detective Hawkins), a criminal forensic investigator testified that after he received a call from another officer, he immediately drove to the Wahls' residence to investigate. He stated that the white metal security gate situated in the Wahls' basement hallway had been anchored on the west wall. On the east wall, there were two independent anchors with latches for the gate to lock into. The security gate had been installed in 2003 and was maintained by Wahl. Detective Hawkins noted that the " top anchor" on the west wall appeared as if it had " been ripped out and then re-anchored back in." (Tr. p. 335). On the east wall, he noted that there were a " bunch of wear marks at the receiving end of the top latch" and applying minor pressure " like a tap" would cause the gate to open. (Tr. p. 338). According to Detective Hawkins, the white metal security gate would not come into contact with the latches, and it caused the gate to swing north and south while open. He further testified that he learned from Wahl that there was a " wooden rocking chair [] on the north side of the gate," and a baby rocking swing on the south end. (Tr. p. 379). He added that both had been used to " keep the gate from moving when [the Wahls] wanted it shut." (Tr. p. 379). The wooden rocking chair had " a lot of wear marks on the [] vertical rail directly adjacent to where" it would " make contact with the baby gate." (Tr. p. 381).

[¶10] Danny described his son as a healthy and happy baby. He testified that " approximately a month and a half to two months" prior to A.D.'s death, he was in the Wahls' home either to drop off or pick up his children. (Tr. p. 263). Danny recalled that Saundra discussed A.D.'s progress with him, and he recalled Saundra stating that A.D. " can even push his way through the baby gate downstairs." (Tr. p. 263).

[¶11] The forensic pathologist who conducted A.D.'s autopsy stated that while there are many variables that are considered in determining how long it takes to asphyxiate, for small children, he indicated that it may take " approximately 90 seconds to 120 seconds" for asphyxiation to ensue; and it would take " no more than 5 minutes" for a child to die. (Tr. p. 437). At the ...


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