from the Vanderburgh Superior Court The Honorable Robert J.
Pigman, Judge, Trial Court Cause No. No. 82D03-1412-PC-6080
Attorneys for Appellant Stephen T. Owens, Public Defender of
Indiana, William D. Polansky Deputy Public Defender
Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana George P. Sherman Deputy Attorney General
Racxon Cruze McDowell ("McDowell") was convicted of
murder in 2012. Following his unsuccessful direct appeal,
McDowell filed a petition for post-conviction relief, which
the Vanderburgh Superior Court denied. McDowell appeals and
presents three issues, which we consolidate and restate as
whether McDowell was denied the effective assistance of trial
and Procedural History
The facts surrounding McDowell's convictions are as
follows. On the morning of June 3, 2012, McDowell
called 911 to report that his girlfriend, Rachel Lomax
("Rachel") was unresponsive. McDowell told the
responding paramedic, Dylan Woods ("Woods"), that
he and Rachel had been out drinking the night before and that
when they came home from the bar, she took six sleeping pills
and went to bed. He claimed that when he woke up, he found
Rachel sitting naked on the toilet and not breathing. Woods
initially suspected, based on McDowell's story, that
Rachel might have overdosed. While attending to Rachel,
however, he noticed numerous injuries on her body. When
confronted with these injuries, McDowell claimed that Rachel
had gotten into a fight at the bar the night before. Woods
and a responding firefighter attempted to perform CPR on
Rachel. But the efforts to resuscitate Rachel were
unsuccessful, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Woods summoned the Evansville Police Department
("EPD") to the scene, who subsequently sought a
search warrant. Both the police and Woods noted that McDowell
had scratches on his face. After obtaining the search
warrant, the police examined the scene and noted a shoe print
on Rachel's shirt that was consistent with McDowell's
shoe. Some of Rachel's clothing had also been ripped or
damaged. Rachel's blood was on the door of the bathroom
and her right hand. Testing of Rachel's fingernails
revealed the presence of McDowell's skin under her
McDowell was taken to jail by EPD Officer Raymond Holden
("Holden"). McDowell asked Holden if he remembered
him from a prior traffic stop. When Holden stated that he did
not remember him, McDowell responded, "Well, you
remember Rachel, don't you?" Trial Tr. p. 607. When
Holden asked who Rachel was, McDowell stated, "You know
Rachel, the girl I f**kin' killed?" Id.
When being booked into jail, McDowell told the booking
officer, "I loved the bitch. I killed her. I loved the
bitch. I killed her." Id. at 617.
McDowell was subsequently interviewed by police and denied
any involvement in Rachel's death. Instead, he claimed
that she had been assaulted by a man and woman at the
riverfront. The police confronted McDowell about inaccuracies
in his story, and McDowell admitted his story was untrue.
McDowell later wrote a letter to Rachel's parents,
admitting that he attacked her after she had punched and
An autopsy revealed the extent of Rachel's injuries,
which were horrifying. She suffered black eyes and a bruise
on her chin. She also had a large contusion on the right side
of her face that was the result of a "serious
injury" that itself would have caused unconsciousness
and even death from internal bleeding. Trial Tr. pp. 189-90.
The injury causing the contusion was so severe that it also
caused multiple, potentially-fatal skull fractures and a
subdural hematoma. The subdural hematoma caused Rachel's
brain to swell and was also a potentially fatal injury.
Id. at 199, 217. These injuries were caused by blunt
force trauma. Rachel also sustained bruises to her forehead,
left temple, behind the left ear, and on her chin and neck.
The autopsy also revealed an injury to the right temporalis
muscle,  which was so severe that it tore the
muscle loose from the skull. Rachel also had several bruises
on the top of her scalp and multiple bruises on her
Rachel also sustained bruises to her small and large
intestines and a hematoma to one of her kidneys. In addition,
Rachel's breastbone was fractured as a result of a severe
blow to the chest. Another blow caused multiple fractured
ribs on her left side. These ribs were "displaced"
fractures, where the bone was so damaged that it came apart.
Trial Tr. p. 203. Such fractures require a significant amount
of force. The chest injuries also caused damage to her lungs,
which would have caused bleeding in the left lung. There was
also a large laceration to Rachel's liver, such that the
organ was almost severed in two. This injury caused massive,
fatal bleeding and was identified as the main cause of death.
On June 6, 2012, the State charged McDowell with murder,
Class D felony obstruction of justice, and Class A
misdemeanor false informing. A three-day jury trial commenced
on August 26, 2013. At trial, the State dismissed the lesser
two counts and proceeded only on the murder charge. During
defense counsel's opening statement, he admitted that
McDowell and Rachel had gotten into a physical fight but
argued that the jury should find McDowell guilty of
McDowell testified on his own behalf and claimed that he and
Rachel had gotten into a fight about missing pills. According
to him, Rachel pushed him and knocked him down, and he pushed
her and knocked her down. He then locked himself in the
bathroom, but Rachel began to pound on the door. When he
opened the door, he punched Rachel in the chin; when she
retaliated by spitting in his face, he slammed her to the
ground and pressed his knee into her stomach to restrain her,
which he believed in hindsight to be what caused the fatal
injury to her liver. He maintained that he did not intend to
McDowell's trial counsel requested that the jury be
instructed on involuntary manslaughter, but the trial court
rejected the instruction. The trial court did, however,
instruct the jury regarding voluntary manslaughter. In
closing arguments to the jury, McDowell's trial counsel
argued that there was insufficient evidence to show that
McDowell intended to kill Rachel. Focusing on the medical
examiner's conclusion that the cause of death was the
laceration to the liver and loss of blood, McDowell's
To convict [McDowell] of murder, you have to say that [he]
knew that by pressing down on her liver with his body weight
with his knee, and by hitting her, that he was going to kill
her, that he knew he was going to split that liver.
That's what you got to get to. That's how you got to
get to murder from here. And that's a big jump.
Trial Tr. p. 756. The jury found McDowell guilty as charged,
and the trial court subsequently sentenced McDowell to
sixty-five years of incarceration.
On direct appeal, McDowell presented three issues: (1)
whether the trial court committed fundamental error by
admitting into evidence certain autopsy photographs and the
videotape of the police interview with McDowell in which he
stated that he had previously battered his ex-wife; (2)
whether the trial court committed fundamental error when it
admitted McDowell's testimony regarding his legal status
at the time of the crime and the past incident of domestic
violence between him and his ex-wife; and (3) whether the
trial court abused its discretion when it admitted a picture
of a tattoo on McDowell's back that referenced gang
affiliation. McDowell v. State, 82A01-1311-CR-492,
2014 WL 3408336, slip op. at 1 (Ind.Ct.App. July 11, 2014).
We rejected McDowell's appellate claims and affirmed his
conviction. Id. at 3.
On December 22, 2014, McDowell filed a pro se petition for
post-conviction relief. On December 7, 2016, McDowell, now
represented by counsel from the Indiana Public Defender's
Office, filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief.
The post-conviction court held an evidentiary hearing on the
petition on February 17, 2017, and entered findings of fact
and conclusions of law on September 29, 2017, denying
McDowell's petition. McDowell now appeals.
Standard of Review
Our standard of review of claims that a post-conviction court
erred in denying relief is well settled:
Post-conviction proceedings are not "super appeals"
through which convicted persons can raise issues they failed
to raise at trial or on direct appeal. Rather,
post-conviction proceedings afford petitioners a limited
opportunity to raise issues that were unavailable or unknown
at trial and on direct appeal. A postconviction petitioner
bears the burden of establishing grounds for relief by a
preponderance of the evidence. On appeal from the denial of
post-conviction relief, the petitioner stands in the position
of one appealing from a negative judgment. To prevail on
appeal from the denial of post-conviction relief, the
petitioner must show that the evidence as a whole leads
unerringly and unmistakably to a conclusion opposite that
reached by the postconviction court.
Where, as here, the post-conviction court makes findings of
fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Indiana
Post-Conviction Rule 1(6), we cannot affirm the judgment on
any legal basis, but rather, must determine if the
court's findings are sufficient to support its judgment.
Although we do not defer to the post-conviction court's
legal conclusions, we review the postconviction court's
factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard.
Accordingly, we will not reweigh the evidence or judge the
credibility of witnesses, and we will consider only the
probative evidence and reasonable inferences flowing
therefrom that support the post-conviction court's
Manzano v. State, 12 N.E.3d 321, 325 (Ind.Ct.App.
2014) (citations omitted) trans. denied.
Assistance of Trial Counsel
In Timberlake v. State, our supreme court summarized
the law regarding claims of ineffective assistance of trial
counsel as follows:
A defendant claiming a violation of the right to effective
assistance of counsel must establish the two components set
forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668
(1984). First, the defendant must show that counsel's
performance was deficient. This requires a showing that
counsel's representation fell below an objective standard
of reasonableness, and that the errors were so serious that
they resulted in a denial of the right to counsel guaranteed
the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant
must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the
defense. To establish prejudice, a defendant must show that
there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's
unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different. A reasonable probability is a
probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the
Counsel is afforded considerable discretion in choosing
strategy and tactics, and we will accord those decisions
deference. A strong presumption arises that counsel rendered
adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the
exercise of reasonable professional judgment. The Strickland
Court recognized that even the finest, most experienced
criminal defense attorneys may not agree on the ideal
strategy or the most effective way to represent a client.
Isolated mistakes, poor strategy, inexperience, and instances
of bad judgment do not necessarily render representation
ineffective. The two prongs of the Strickland test are
separate and ...