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Hambel v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

March 15, 2019

Joe Paul Hambel, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

          Appeal from the Washington Circuit Court Cause No. 88C01-1608-MR-400 The Honorable Larry W. Medlock, Judge

          Attorney for Appellant Patrick J. Smith Bedford, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Tyler G. Banks Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          NAJAM, JUDGE.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Joe Paul Hambel appeals his convictions for two counts of murder, felonies, and one count of criminal trespass, as a Class A misdemeanor, following a jury trial. Hambel presents the following consolidated issues for our review:

1. Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion for mistrial based on alleged juror misconduct.
2. Whether his sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and his character.

         [¶2] We affirm.[1]

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] On August 19, 2016, Hambel approached an officer with the Salem Police Department, Ronald Mays, to discuss Hambel's "concern with drugs" in Washington County, including drug activity at a home where a woman named Valerie Dicus lived. Tr. Vol. 2 at 168. Hambel told Officer Mays that he wanted to become an informant, and he asked Officer Mays "how [Hambel] could help get the drugs out of Washington County." Id. Officer Mays told Hambel to contact Salem Police Officer Eric Mills.

         [¶4] Later that evening, Hambel was out with his neighbor R.J. Sease, and they stopped at a Circle K gas station. Officer Mills was there to investigate a motor vehicle collision at the station. Hambel approached Officer Mills, identified himself, told Officer Mills that he wanted to help "clean up the drug problem in the town," and identified Dicus as "one of the drug dealers that he was wanting to help with." Id. at 185. Officer Mills told Hambel that he would call him so that the two could sit down and discuss the matter another time.

         [¶5] After Hambel and Sease left the gas station, they went back to Hambel's apartment. There, Hambel took Sease to a bedroom and showed him a gun, which Hambel put into a holster "around his ankle." Tr. Vol. 3 at 6. Sease also saw that Hambel had a gun "on his hip." Id. at 7. Sease then left the apartment with his girlfriend to run an errand.

         [¶6] Sease returned to Hambel's apartment a while later, and, at approximately midnight, the two left in Hambel's car, which Hambel wanted to sell to Sease. Hambel drove the car back to the Circle K and bought cigarettes. After that, Hambel drove to a house on Small Street. Hambel parked his car on the street, turned the headlights off, and got out of the car. Sease stayed in the car. After a few minutes had passed, Sease heard gunshots, and then Hambel ran back to the car and got in the driver's seat. Hambel had a gun in his hand, and he told Sease that "he had took [sic] care of one of Washington County's biggest drug problems." Id. at 17. And Hambel told Sease that he had just "shot her in the head" and "shot him." Id. Hambel then drove back to his apartment. Before he pulled the car into the parking lot, he told Sease, "[I]f you tell anyone, I've got a bigger [gun] I'm going to use on you." Id. at 18.

         [¶7] Logan Shelton, Dicus' half-brother, had been sleeping in his bedroom at his family's house on Small Street when, after midnight on August 20, he was awakened by gunshots. Logan went to the living room to investigate and found Dicus' boyfriend, Joe Hobson, on the floor bleeding and "struggling to breathe." Tr. Vol. 2 at 149. Logan's brother Seth was there, and they decided that they should call 9-1-1. When Logan went for the phone, he saw Dicus motionless on the couch, and he saw "a little pile of blood." Id. at 150. Logan then called 9-1-1. Dicus and Hobson were subsequently declared dead as a result of gunshot wounds.

         [¶8] In the early morning hours of August 20, Indiana State Police Detective David Mitchell began investigating the murders, and he quickly learned from Officer Mays about Hambel's interest in Dicus' drug-dealing activity. Accordingly, Detective Mitchell found Hambel at his apartment, told him that he would like to discuss the murders, and transported Hambel to the Washington County Sheriff's Department, where Hambel agreed to give a recorded statement. Hambel initially denied having been at Dicus' house. But he later admitted that he had gone to her house the night of August 19 and "looked in windows." Tr. Vol. 3 at 84. At the conclusion of the interview, Hambel gave Detective Mitchell consent to search his apartment.

         [¶9] Hambel accompanied Detective Mitchell to Hambel's apartment, and Hambel told Detective Mitchell that he could find his 9-mm handgun under the driver's seat of his car. Detective Mitchell secured that handgun. Inside Hambel's apartment, Detective Mitchell found a .32-caliber handgun in an ankle holster on top of a cabinet in the bathroom. Detective Mitchell remembered that there were "several .32 caliber shell casings at the scene" of the murders. Id. at 181. Detective Mitchell then transported Hambel back to the Sheriff's Department for a second interview. In that interview, Hambel admitted that he had shot Dicus and Hobson in "self defense." Id. at 187. He claimed that he had gone into the house "to scare the s*** out of" Dicus and Hobson and, following a scuffle between Hambel and Hobson for Hambel's gun, the gun went off. Id. at 225.

         [¶10] The State charged Hambel with two counts of murder; two counts of felony murder; and burglary, as a Level 5 felony. The State subsequently dismissed the burglary count and added a count of criminal trespass, as a Class A misdemeanor. During the voir dire portion of the ensuing jury trial, a potential juror ultimately seated as Juror 2 engaged in the following colloquy about his familiarity with Hambel and the murders:

Juror 2: My wife graduated High School with [Hambel].
State: Okay and not you, but your wife?
Juror 2: Yeah.
State: Do you know . . . him then?
Juror 2: Ah, just through her.
State: Through her, does she, was she a friend . . .
Juror 2: Yeah.
State: . . . close friend?
Juror 2: Yeah, pretty close friends with her.
State: Have you talked with her about this situation then?
Juror 2: Not a lot, no.
State: Okay, have you talked to her about what kind of person he may be?
Juror 2: Yeah.
State: Have you, I don't want you to tell me . . . have you developed any kind of opinions or beliefs about him or the case, based on that conversation?
Juror 2: Yeah, a little.
State: Okay. . . . Do you feel like this may not be the right case for you, given what you know?
Juror 2: Yeah, probably.

         Voir Dire Tr. at 7. The State then moved to strike Juror 2 for cause. Defense counsel asked Juror 2 several questions about his wife's relationship with Hambel, and defense counsel argued that Juror 2 could be impartial. The trial court agreed and denied the State's motion to strike Juror 2 for cause. Juror 2 was ultimately seated on the jury.

         [¶11] On the morning of the sixth day of the jury trial, the court announced that two jurors had notified the bailiff that "one juror may have had extra judicial conduct with a family member . . . ." Tr. Vol. 4 at 64. The juror in question was Juror 2. Accordingly, the court conducted interviews with several jurors to assess the situation. The first juror the court interviewed stated that he had not heard Juror 2 make any improper comments. The second juror the court interviewed stated as follows:

Juror: One item is, he comes in to the jury room and continues talking about his wife making comments about the defendant. Somewhat, to my assumption, of course, I am making an assumption that he's speaking with this about [sic] his wife.
Defense: And without telling us what was said, is he saying this to the entire group? Are all of the jurors. . .
Juror: I don't think that all of the jurors are hearing it, no. I mean obviously, that's why, there was [sic] a few [of] us that . . .
Defense: Right. Were matters being discussed without all of the ...

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