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
of the Case
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
2. Whether his sentence is inappropriate in light of the
nature of the offenses and his character.
and Procedural History
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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