from the Delaware Circuit Court The Honorable Kimberly S.
Dowling, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 18C02-1602-PC-3
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Ellen H. Meilaender Supervising Deputy Attorney
General Jodi Kathryn Stein Deputy Attorney General
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE David W. Stone, IV STONE Law Office
& Legal Research Anderson, Indiana
The State of Indiana appeals the post-conviction court's
grant of a petition for post-conviction relief filed by
Matthew Stidham. The State raises one issue which we revise
and restate as whether the post-conviction court erred by
granting Stidham post-conviction relief. We reverse.
and Procedural History
The relevant facts as discussed in Stidham's direct
On the night of February 23, 1991, [Stidham] and several of
his friends, including the decedent in this case, drove to
the decedent's apartment where they drank whiskey and
played guitars. They eventually started "trading
punches." This evidentially started as horseplay but
grew into an angry encounter between [Stidham] and the
As the fight escalated, the others joined with [Stidham] in
beating the decedent. Not only did they beat and kick the
decedent, but they also struck him with a wooden club. They
then loaded much of the decedent's electronic equipment
into his van, gagged him, placed him in the back of the van
and drove off. They eventually arrived at a secluded area
near the Mississinewa River where the decedent was removed
from the van and again beaten and stabbed some forty-seven
times before his body was thrown into the river. After
visiting with friends, who they told of the killing,
[Stidham] and his associates drove into the State of Illinois
where they were arrested.
Stidham v. State, 637 N.E.2d 140, 142 (Ind. 1994).
A jury trial resulted in the conviction of Stidham for
murder, robbery as a class A felony, criminal confinement as
a class B felony, battery as a class C felony, and auto theft
as a class D felony. Id. In February 1993, the
Indiana Supreme Court reversed Stidham's convictions and
remanded the case for a new trial. Id. (citing
Stidham v. State, 608 N.E.2d 699 (Ind. 1993)).
After retrial and convictions on all counts, Stidham
appealed. Id. In that appeal, he contended in part
that his 141-year sentence was unreasonable and
disproportionate to the crime. Id. at 144. He argued
"in sharp contrast to his behavior prior to his original
sentencing, his behavior in prison had been exemplary, that
he had obtained a GED, and that he actively participated in a
substance abuse program as certified by a letter to Judge
Dailey from Linda Poe[, ] the substance abuse supervisor at
the institution." Id. He also argued that the
record disclosed that he was an abused child. Id.
In an opinion issued in July 1994, the Indiana Supreme Court
concluded: "Given the extreme brutality of the crimes
committed in this case, the trial judge was well within his
discretion in refusing to mitigate the sentences either on
[Stidham's] subsequent conduct in the prison or the abuse
he had received as a child." Id. The Court
observed: "As pointed out by the trial judge, two of
[Stidham's] brothers had received the same treatment but
had become upstanding citizens in their community."
Id. The Court concluded that the sentence was
defective in one regard, remanded to the trial court for the
purpose of vacating the auto theft conviction as it should
have been merged with the robbery conviction, and affirmed
the trial court in all other respects.Id.
On February 8, 2016, Stidham filed a verified petition for
post-conviction relief contending that his sentence violated
the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and
Article 1, Section 16 of the Indiana Constitution. On
February 12, 2016, the State filed an answer to Stidham's
petition, and on October 27, 2016, the court held a hearing.
Stidham's counsel offered an exhibit "which is a
full and complete transcript, which is a fair and accurate
copy of the original and that includes everything from the
beginning through the sentencing and all the
appendices." October 27, 2016 Transcript at 5. The
prosecutor had no objection, and the court admitted it as
Petitioner's Exhibit 1. Delonda Lee Hartman testified
that Stidham was her student when she was teaching for Ball
State University at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.
She stated she thought Stidham was one of those students
highlighted in a video titled Cell Block Scholars.
Stidham's counsel offered the video as an exhibit, and
the prosecutor objected on the basis of relevance.
Stidham's counsel argued that the video supports that
"juveniles should be treated differently by the
Court" and that "juveniles need to have the ability
to be reformed." Id. at 8-9. The court
overruled the objection and admitted the exhibit. Hartman
testified that Stidham matured, was very helpful in class,
and was an exemplary student.
Stidham indicated that he had "no real formal
education" prior to being sentenced but had become a
full-time firefighter in prison, taught the biohazard
certification program and for an apprenticeship program, and
was the firefighter instructor. Id. at 12.
On November 29, 2016, he filed proposed findings of fact and
conclusions of law, which concluded that his sentence should
be ordered reduced to time served. On January 3, 2017, the
post-conviction court entered an order granting Stidham's
petition and stating in part:
** * * *
2. [Stidham] was seventeen (17) years old at the time of the
** * * *
8. The Petition raises a single issue for consideration by
this Court: Whether [Stidham's] sentence violates the
8thAmendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article
1 Sec 16 of the Indiana Constitution prohibiting cruel and
9. Based upon the sentence imposed by this Court, if
[Stidham] is still alive, he will be eighty two (82) years of
age when his sentence is complete.
10. Since [Stidham] was sentenced much research has been done
on the brains of juveniles and their ability to change.
11. Neither the trial court nor the Supreme Court had access
to this information and research since it did not exist at
12. Furthermore, [Stidham's] actions and progress in
prison is a testament to this research.
13. There is no question that the crimes committed were
14. The question for the Court, however, is whether the
sentence imposed was excessive in light of the research done
and cases decided in the meantime.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
15. The United States Supreme Court in Miller v.
Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455');">132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012) held
that the imposition of mandatory life sentences without
parole on juveniles is forbidden.
16. Miller requires the sentencing judge to
"take into account how children are different, and how
those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them
to a lifetime in prison"  S.Ct. at 2469.
17. While Stidham was not sentenced to life without parole,
it is the functional equivalent.
18. Other courts in other jurisdictions have held similarly
in cases involving juveniles. Hayden v. Keller, 134
F.Supp.3d 1000 (E.D. N.C. 2015) cites several cases where de
facto life sentences for juveniles were held to be cruel and
unusual punishment in violation of the 8th
Amendment of the Constitution.
19. The Indiana Supreme Court relied on Miller in
two separate 2014 cases.
20. In Brown v. State[, ] 10 N.E.3d 1 (Ind. 2014)[,
] and Fuller v. State, [9 N.E.3d 653 (Ind. 2014), ]
the Court held that imposition of juveniles of two
consecutive 75 year sentences for two (2) murders was
21. The Court in those cases discussed the U.S. Supreme
Court's observations that first, a juvenile lacks
maturity and has an underdeveloped sense of responsibility;
second that they are more vulnerable or susceptible to
negative influences and outside pressures, including peer
pressure, and they have limited control over their own
environment and lack the ability to extricate themselves from
horrific, crime-producing settings; and third a child's
character is not as well formed as an adult's and his
actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievable
22. The Court in Fuller found that the maximum
consecutive sentence means denial of hope; it means that good
behavior and character improvement are immaterial; it means
that whatever the future might hold in store for the mind and
spirit of the juvenile convict, he will remain in prison for
the rest of his days.
23. As a result, this Court finds that [Stidham's]
sentence was excessive in light of his age at the time of the
offense and his Petition should be GRANTED.
Appellant's Appendix Volume 2 at 51-52 (underlining
The State appealed. In a memorandum decision, we held that
the post-conviction court had not entered "an
appropriate order with respect to the conviction or
sentence" or complied with Section 6 of Ind.
Post-Conviction Rule 1 and we remanded for further
proceedings. See State v. Stidham, No.
18A02-1701-PC-68, slip op. at 8 (Ind.Ct.App. June 14, 2017).
The State petitioned for rehearing and argued that this Court
should have addressed its arguments that Stidham's
sentencing claim was barred from review by procedural
default, that his sentence did not violate the Eighth
Amendment, and that the post-conviction court could not
revisit a sentence found not unreasonable or disproportionate
by the Indiana Supreme Court. The State also argued that we
should grant rehearing to clarify a jurisdictional issue,
i.e., whether this Court had retained jurisdiction or whether
a new notice of appeal would be necessary. We granted
rehearing to clarify that we retained jurisdiction and
remanded for the post-conviction court to issue a sentencing
order. See State v. Stidham, No. 18A02-1701-PC-68
(Ind.Ct.App. October 18, 2017).
On December 13, 2017, the State filed a Verified Motion for
Writ in Aid of Appellate Jurisdiction asserting that the
post-conviction court scheduled a resentencing hearing for
March 8, 2018, and requested that this Court order the
post-conviction court to issue an amended post-conviction
order within fifteen days specifying the relief granted so
that this Court could adjudicate the State's appeal and
to refrain from holding new sentencing ...