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Taylor v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

December 5, 2017

Carltez Taylor, Appellant (Defendant),
State of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff).

         Appeal from the Vanderburgh Circuit Court, No. 82C01-1512-MR-7498 The Honorable David D. Kiely, Judge The Honorable Michael J. Cox, Magistrate

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Matthew J. McGovern Anderson, Indiana.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Kelly A. Loy Andrew A. Kobe Deputy Attorneys General Indianapolis, Indiana.

         On Direct Appeal

          Rush, Chief Justice.

         Seventeen-year-old Carltez Taylor was convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and sentenced to life without parole ("LWOP"). He appeals his convictions, arguing that the State's references to his nickname "Looney the Shooter" led to fundamental error, that the State untimely amended the conspiracy to commit murder charge, and that insufficient evidence supports his conspiracy to commit murder conviction. He also argues that his LWOP sentence is inappropriate, violates the United States and Indiana Constitutions' proportionality requirements, and violates the Sixth Amendment because a jury never found a qualifying aggravator beyond a reasonable doubt. We reject his first three arguments, revise his sentence from LWOP to an aggregate eighty-year term, and decline to address his other challenges to LWOP.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On the night after Thanksgiving in 2015, seventeen-year-old Carltez Taylor went with a friend to hang out at D.G.'s house. D.G. and one of her friends-both teenage girls-were home on weekend passes from a juvenile detention center. D.G. knew Taylor as "Looney, " and introduced him that way to her mother, Lyn. Uncomfortable with Taylor and his friend, Lyn ordered the boys to leave. They went outside and smoked cigarettes, but soon snuck back into the house and to the basement.

         Later that night, another teenage boy arrived, bringing a 9mm Hi-Point handgun. He handed it to one of the other boys, who removed the magazine and handed the gun to Taylor. Taylor then put the magazine back in the gun and stuck the Hi-Point into his waistband.

         As the night wore on, D.G. texted J.W. (a recent fling) about hanging out and having sex. When Taylor found out, he called J.W. a "b****" and said he "wasn't s*** [and] wasn't about nothing." The three boys plotted about "b****ing him" or "punking him out, " which D.G. described as fighting someone who does not want to fight.

         The rhetoric escalated. Taylor threatened to beat up D.G. unless she got J.W. to come over. Afraid, D.G. began enticing J.W.-who was suspicious, repeatedly asking if it was a setup. But after D.G. lied that she was alone, J.W. ultimately agreed to meet her at the corner near her house. J.W. and his nephew, T.S., met her there shortly thereafter.

         D.G. asked J.W. and T.S. if they were "strapped" (had guns on them)-they did not. Then, D.G. kept them waiting at the corner for about ten minutes, supposedly for her "sister." But instead of a friend, a figure wearing black emerged from between two houses, with a hood snugly tied around his face. Seeing him, J.W. and T.S. walked the other way.

         As the hooded person approached, D.G. recognized him as Taylor and watched him pull out the 9mm Hi-Point. When shots started flying-five or six in total-J.W. and T.S. took off running. They ran toward an alley, but when T.S. got there, he realized that J.W. was no longer with him. He returned to the street and found J.W. lying on the sidewalk, shot in the back.

         T.S. then watched the shooter run past, recognizing him as Carltez Taylor, an acquaintance he knew from playing basketball. As Taylor ran by J.W., he said "CTK b****." J.W. and his friends were known as the "cream team, " and "CTK" means "cream team killer." Within minutes, J.W. died on the sidewalk from a single gunshot wound to the back.

         Before learning J.W.'s fate, D.G. and Taylor ran back to her house. As they arrived, Taylor grabbed D.G., put the still-hot gun to her head, and told her that if she said anything he would kill her. They returned to D.G.'s basement, where Taylor asked D.G. if he hit J.W. She told him that he did.

         Taylor then removed his hoodie and texted a friend to pray for him. He and the other teenage boys hid the gun and magazine in separate parts of the basement's ceiling and made a large hole in the wall to hide inside.

         The next day, T.S.'s family told police that Taylor was the shooter, and D.G. led detectives to the hoodie and the murder weapon. After DNA from the hoodie matched Taylor-leading to a warrant for his arrest-he turned himself in to police. Months later, when D.G. saw Taylor at juvenile court, he called her "the police" and said he "should have killed [her] when he had the chance."

         The State charged Taylor with murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. The State filed a sentencing enhancement for all three offenses based on Taylor's use of a firearm, and sought LWOP based on the "committing murder by lying in wait" aggravator.

         Just two days before trial, the State amended the conspiracy count to say that another teenager, not Taylor, supplied the handgun. Taylor objected that the amendment was untimely, but was overruled.

         Taylor also asked the trial court to prevent the State's witnesses from using his nickname "Looney the Shooter" because of its undue prejudice. The court preliminarily agreed, but offered to reconsider at trial. During trial, Taylor did not object when a detective referred to him as "Looney the Shooter, " nor when the State used the nickname in its closing argument.

         The jury found Taylor guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and not guilty of attempted murder. It also found him eligible for an enhanced sentence for using a firearm.

         At sentencing, the jury was specifically directed to consider Taylor's age as a mitigating factor. Ultimately, the jury recommended a sentence of life without parole. The court accepted the recommendation, sentencing Taylor to LWOP on the murder conviction plus fifteen years for the firearm enhancement, and to a concurrent thirty-five-year sentence on the conspiracy to commit murder conviction. It then merged the enhancement and concurrent sentence into LWOP.

         Taylor now directly appeals both his convictions and his sentence to this Court, raising six issues. See Ind. Appellate Rule 4(A)(1)(a).

         Discussion and Decision

         I. The State's References to Taylor as "Looney the Shooter" Did Not ...

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