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B.T.E. v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

October 11, 2018

B.T.E., Appellant,
State of Indiana, Appellee.

          Argued: January 11, 2018

          Appeal from the Jackson Superior Court The Honorable Bruce A. MacTavish, Judge No. 36D02-1601-JD-3 On

          Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals No. 36A05-1607-JV-1702

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT R. Patrick Magrath Alcorn Sage Schwartz & Magrath, LLP Madison, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana

          Katherine Cooper Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana



         For several months B.T.E., a juvenile, plotted to shoot up and blow up his high school, and he targeted two of his classmates to die. B.T.E. took several steps to implement his plot. The trial court adjudicated B.T.E. a juvenile delinquent on two counts, one of which is relevant here: attempted aggravated battery, a level 3 felony if committed by an adult.

         We consider whether, under Indiana's criminal-attempt statute, B.T.E. took the required "substantial step" toward committing aggravated battery-or whether his actions were "mere preparation". After considering several factors, we hold there was sufficient evidence of the "substantial step" element and affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Appellant, B.T.E., was a sophomore at Seymour High School during the 2015-16 school year. During the fall semester, he began plotting an attack at his school in the spring semester of his senior year. He targeted two of his classmates: G.M., the object of B.T.E.'s unrequited affection; and J.R., a rival suitor. B.T.E. chose April 20, 2018, as the date of his planned attack- the anniversary of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, a shooting spree during which 13 people were murdered, many more were injured, and the two student gunmen committed suicide.

         In January 2016, a school resource officer at Seymour High School learned that B.T.E. had liked a Facebook page called "Columbine High School Massacre". The officer reported this information to the Seymour Police Department, which began its own investigation. During an interview, police told B.T.E. of the allegations against him, and he became visibly upset and teary-eyed. B.T.E. admitted talking to other students about possibly "shooting up the school". And he admitted having a crush on G.M. and a strong animus toward J.R., whom he thought G.M. preferred. Although B.T.E. acknowledged plotting with his friend and classmate, M.V., he claimed their scheme was just a long-running joke.

          B.T.E. was arrested shortly afterward. The State charged B.T.E. with juvenile offenses that would be crimes if an adult committed them: attempted murder, attempted aggravated battery, conspiracy to commit murder, and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery.

         At the juvenile-delinquency proceeding, the trial court admitted into evidence statements B.T.E. made to M.V. and other juveniles via Facebook chat. B.T.E. repeatedly expressed his wish to torture or kill J.R. and occasionally mentioned killing G.M., too. In exchanges with his friend and co-conspirator M.V., B.T.E. claimed he had "figured out how to make pipe bombs" and described the weapons he might use against J.R.

B.T.E.: I could steal a knife ... and kill [J.R.] with it and then take out as many people as possible.
M.V.: Or you could buy a gun.
. . . .
B.T.E.: Or I could attempt to break into my dads [sic] gun safe so I wouldn't have to buy a weapon.

         The Facebook chat logs also show B.T.E. solicited M.V. and a student from a different school, D.H., to assist with violent acts.

         B.T.E. disclosed the date of his planned attack when he said in a Facebook chat, "four twenty eighteen (4/20/18). Some people will find out what the state of nothingness is like." B.T.E. told police he chose that particular date because it was the anniversary of the Columbine school massacre. When police asked B.T.E. about the significance of 2018, he responded that was his senior year and he had done a large amount of research on school massacres including the Columbine shooting and its perpetrators. The two Columbine student-gunmen were high-school seniors when they carried out their deadly attack.

         The court also admitted into evidence a diagram B.T.E. made of one of the classrooms depicting the seating arrangement, marking the exits, and indicating an "x" where one of his intended victims sat. And the trial court admitted B.T.E's "death note", which was to be read after B.T.E. died carrying out his plan. The trial court adjudicated B.T.E. a delinquent for attempted aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery but not for the other charges. The court sentenced B.T.E. to probation until his eighteenth birthday with a suspended commitment to the Indiana Department of Correction.

         A divided Court of Appeals reversed the attempt finding but affirmed the conspiracy finding. B.T.E. v. State, 82 N.E.3d 267 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017). On the attempt issue, the majority held that "the State did not present evidence that B.T.E. completed a substantial step toward the commission of the crime of aggravated battery", id. at 279, because "the conduct . . . did not go beyond mere preparation and was not strongly corroborative of his stated intent", id. at 278. The dissent would have affirmed the trial court's findings on both the conspiracy and attempt charges. Id. at 282 (Bradford, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part).

         We granted transfer, thus vacating the Court of Appeals' decision. We provide additional facts below.

         Standard of Review

         When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence in a juvenile adjudication, we do not reweigh the evidence or judge witness credibility. K.S. v. State, 849 N.E.2d 538, 543 (Ind. 2006) (citation omitted). We consider only the evidence favorable to the judgment and the reasonable inferences supporting it. Id. We will affirm a juvenile-delinquency adjudication if a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Moran v. State, 622 N.E.2d 157, 159 (Ind. 1993) (citations omitted).

         Discussion and Decision

         We hold there is sufficient evidence to support the trial court's adjudication of B.T.E. as a juvenile delinquent on the charge of attempted aggravated battery. He engaged in conduct that would constitute a substantial step toward the crime of aggravated battery if committed by an adult. In addition, we summarily affirm the Court of Appeals' disposition of two other issues: that the State's continuance did not deprive B.T.E. of a speedy hearing under Indiana Code section 31-37-11-2, and that there was sufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's finding of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery.

         Sufficient evidence supports B.T.E/s delinquency adjudication for attempted aggravated battery.

         In Indiana, a person commits aggravated battery, a level 3 felony, if he "knowingly or intentionally inflicts injury on a person that creates a substantial risk of death or causes: (1) serious permanent disfigurement; (2) protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ; or (3) the loss of a fetus". Ind. Code § 35-42-2-1.5. And a person commits the crime of attempt when, "acting with the culpability required for commission of the crime, the person engages in conduct that constitutes a substantial step toward commission of the crime." Id. § 35-41-5-l(a). See also State v. Van Cleave, 674 N.E.2d 1293, 1304 (Ind. 1996). "Whether a substantial step has occurred is a question of fact, to be decided by the jury, based on the particular circumstances of each case." State v. Lewis, 429 N.E.2d 1110, 1116 (Ind. 1981) (citations omitted).

         There is no doubt B.T.E. acted with the scienter required to commit aggravated battery. The object of his intentions, which included killing two of his classmates, qualifies as aggravated battery, and he does not argue otherwise. The only unresolved issue is ...

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