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Bedolla v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

May 28, 2019

Anthony Bedolla, Appellant (Petitioner below),
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee (Respondent below).

          Argued: January 17, 2019

          Appeal from the Marion Superior Court, No. 49G02-0903-PC-34210 The Honorable Amy Barbar, Magistrate

          On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 49A02-1712-PC-3004

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Cynthia M. Carter Law Office of Cynthia M. Carter, LLC Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Caroline G. Templeton Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Chief Justice Rush and Justice David concur.

          Justice Massa concurs in result.

          Justice Slaughter concurs in part, dissents in part with separate opinion.

          OPINION

          GOFF, JUSTICE.

         In what can only be characterized as a twist of fate, Anthony Bedolla found himself sharing a holding cell with the man who could help prove he had been wrongly convicted of murder. Securing the man's testimony and presenting it to the post-conviction court proved challenging for Bedolla's attorney for various reasons, some outside her control. After an unsuccessful deposition, yet with assurances from the witness that he would cooperate, Bedolla's counsel sought leave from the court to try again to get the testimony. But the post-conviction court refused to hear argument from Bedolla's attorney on this point, even denying her the opportunity to make an offer of proof. The court then ended discovery, closed the evidence, and demanded proposed findings and conclusions from the parties. When Bedolla's counsel attempted to make her case and develop a record for appeal, the court silenced her with threats of contempt.

         Part of a judge's job is to listen. In re Van Walters v. Bd. of Children's Guardians of Marion Cty., 132 Ind. 567, 571, 32 N.E. 568, 569 (1892) (stating judges must "hear with deliberation, act with impartiality, and decide upon the law and the evidence") (emphasis added). When a judge refuses to hear a party's offer to prove, she not only abdicates the duty to listen, but she calls into question the principle of fundamental fairness, which requires that parties, particularly those bearing the burden of proof, receive every reasonable opportunity to make their case. Hirsch v. State, 697 N.E.2d 37, 43 (Ind. 1998). Today we hold that a post-conviction court abuses its discretion when it denies a party's legitimate request to make an offer of proof.

         Factual and Procedural History

         In the wee hours of March 8, 2009, Erick Espinoza was shot and killed in an Indianapolis nightclub's parking lot. Multiple witnesses placed Anthony Bedolla in the parking lot, but only one witness identified him as the killer. The State eventually charged Bedolla with murder and cocaine possession. Following a bench trial in February 2010, the court found Bedolla guilty as charged and sentenced him to 45 years in prison. See Bedolla v. State, No. 49A02-1003-CR-368, 2011 WL 240152, at *1 (Ind.Ct.App. Jan. 20, 2011), trans. denied.

         In October 2011, after exhausting direct appeals, Bedolla sought post-conviction relief. He twice amended his petition over the years before the court held an evidentiary hearing on January 11, 2017. After that hearing, while Bedolla sat in a Marion County Jail holding cell awaiting transport back to prison, he met Miguel Barragan-Lopez. The two cellmates struck up a conversation and Barragan-Lopez provided information that, if true, would exonerate Bedolla.

         Barragan-Lopez told Bedolla that he knew Sarai Solano-the one witness that testified she saw Bedolla shoot Espinoza-and she told him that another man committed the murder. Specifically, Barragan-Lopez recounted he had a brief relationship with Solano and she confided to him that Jose Reyes (her old boyfriend) shot and killed Espinoza, not Bedolla.

         Bedolla relayed this information to his post-conviction attorney ("Counsel") and asked her to investigate. Counsel talked with both Barragan-Lopez and his attorney. In April 2017, Counsel submitted a third amendment to Bedolla's PCR petition, alleging newly discovered evidence revealed a different killer and entitled him to a new trial. Counsel arranged to have Barragan-Lopez testify at an April 26, 2017 evidentiary hearing, but a week before the hearing United States Marshalls moved him from Indianapolis to Litchfield, Kentucky.

         On July 19, 2017, Counsel attempted to take Barragan-Lopez's recorded statement, but he refused to go on the record without a court order. Counsel updated the post-conviction court about the prior unsuccessful attempts to have Barragan-Lopez testify. She moved for leave to depose Barragan-Lopez and attached the subpoena to the motion. Counsel acknowledged that since Barragan-Lopez was in Kentucky, she would need to utilize the Uniform Interstate Depositions and Discovery Act to serve the subpoena. The State did not respond to Counsel's motion and the court later granted it.

         On September 13, 2017, Counsel travelled to Kentucky to depose Barragan-Lopez. The State participated via video conference. Shortly into the deposition, the State objected to Counsel's leading questions, calling them "totally inappropriate for a trial deposition." Appellant's App. Vol. III, p. 72, lines 17-18. Upon hearing the State's objections, Barragan-Lopez said: "If they're not appropriate, then I want to leave." Id. at 72, lines 21- 22. Counsel tried to explain to Barragan-Lopez that the State was objecting only as to the questions' form and reminded him that he was under a subpoena. After listening to the back-and-forth between the attorneys, Barragan-Lopez said he could help Bedolla, but he did not want to get into trouble. As Counsel tried to continue the deposition, Barragan-Lopez repeatedly said he wanted his attorney present because he did not trust what either the State or Counsel was telling him. Barragan-Lopez affirmed he would eventually talk, but he wanted his attorney present. Before leaving the room, Barragan-Lopez told Counsel: "I know that you feel bad because I want to leave. But if you come back with my attorney, I will answer all of the questions you have." Id. at 82, lines 5-7. Counsel called Barragan-Lopez's attorney, but the latter could not participate in the deposition that day.

         One week later, the parties appeared before the post-conviction court for a status hearing. At the beginning of the hearing the court said: "I think I had just set this for a hearing to make sure that I got my order out on that [deposition] motion. I meant to actually vacate this hearing." Tr. Vol. III, p. 35, lines 1-3. The court then cleared up a duplicate filing and asked, "So is there anything else?" Id. at 36, lines 15-16. At this Counsel updated the court:

We're still working on getting [the deposition] completed, Your Honor. I'm in touch with the deponent's counsel. He's on vacation this week and we're scheduled to talk on ...

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