from the Lake Superior Court The Honorable Salvador Vasquez,
Judge The Honorable Kathleen A. Sullivan, Magistrate Trial
Court Cause No. 45G01-1608-PC-7
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Stephen T. Owens Public Defender of
Indiana Katherine Province Anne C. Kaiser Deputy Public
Defenders Indianapolis, Indiana
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Monika Prekopa Talbot Deputy Attorney General
Donnell Wilson grew up in an urban war zone and became a gang
member at a young age. He was sixteen years old at the time
he committed murder and other crimes. The trial court
sentenced him to an aggregate sentence of 181 years, which is
a de facto sentence of life without parole. Wilson's
trial counsel presented no evidence at his sentencing
hearing, and counsel's sentencing argument takes up only
2 pages of a transcript that spans over 700. The sentencing
hearing did not include evidence regarding Wilson's youth
and its attendant characteristics or Wilson's particular
characteristics; as a result, it did not comply with relevant
On post-conviction, Wilson argued that he received the
ineffective assistance of trial counsel. We agree. We
therefore reverse and remand with instructions to vacate
Wilson's sentences and to hold a new sentencing hearing
that complies with Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460
Wilson, who was sixteen years old at the time he committed
the crimes at issue in this appeal, grew up in Gary. He was
the sixth of twelve children and was intelligent and a role
model to his siblings and classmates. Glen Park, the
neighborhood in which Wilson grew up, was an "urban war
zone." PCR Ex. 8 p. 5. His mother did not allow her
children to play outside and taught them to fall to the floor
or go to the basement if they heard gunshots. Wilson was
under threat of serious injury and death nearly every day.
When he was seven or eight years old, he saw another child
get shot in the head. On another occasion, he saw two friends
get shot. His home was firebombed on one occasion and shot at
multiple times; he was present when the home was firebombed.
Wilson had been shot on at least two occasions.
Growing up in such an area caused Wilson to develop a
"war zone mentality" characterized by
"hypervigilance," which is manifested as extreme
sensitivity to potential threats and a high probability of
responding to perceived threats with aggression. PCR Ex. 6 p.
7. As a result of his surroundings, Wilson developed
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at a young age.
As is common for individuals living in urban war zones,
Wilson became affiliated with several gang groups, including
the Get Fresh Boys and Tre 7. Glen Park and its gangs were
rivals with the gangs of another Gary neighborhood.
Crimes and Direct Appeal
On March 17, 2013, Wilson was sixteen years old. The facts,
as described by this Court in Wilson's direct appeal, are
In March 17, 2013, fifteen-year-old Pecolla Crawford was
walking home with her brother Jonte Crawford, their cousin
Jordan Hendrix, and Wilson, who was dating Pecolla at the
time. Hendrix was in town visiting and staying with Pecolla
and Jonte. While the group was walking, they encountered
fifteen-year-old Derrick Thompson, at which point Jonte and
Wilson began harassing and intimidating Thompson, flashing
the guns they were carrying, and asking Thompson what part of
town he was from. Wilson was carrying a silver .357 revolver
and Jonte had a black handgun. Jonte then told Thompson to
give him his phone and Wilson made a reference to Tre 7, a
local gang, and grabbed Thompson's Dre Beats headphones
off of his head. The two then left Thompson and continued
walking with Pecolla and Jordan.
The group then encountered brothers Shaqwone Ham and Charles
Wood. Jordan, who was friends with the brothers, exchanged
greetings and continued walking with Pecolla. Pecolla then
heard Jonte and Wilson begin to argue with the brothers.
Wilson said, "Y'all looking for me? I'm in your
hood." A couple seconds later, Wilson shot Wood in the
head. As Ham attempted to run, Jonte shot him several times.
Both Ham and Wood died as a result of their injuries. Shortly
after the incident, police received calls from Thompson and a
nearby resident who witnessed the shooting. Jonte and Wilson
were subsequently arrested and Thompson's phone and
headphones were recovered from Jonte at the police station.
Ham and Wood were members of the Dolla Boys gang, which was a
subset of the larger Bottom Side gang. Wilson was part of
several interrelated gangs including the Get Fresh Boys, Tre
7, and Glen Park Affiliated, all of which were at odds with
the Bottom Side gangs. Wilson had posted several gang related
comments on his Twitter account including, "up for da
bottom," referring to people from Bottom Side, "Tre
7 got da mac," "Yea ima freshboy but im riding thru
da bottom," and "Claim da bottom u get
whacked." On March 12, 2013, Wilson tweeted "[If I]
see a dolla he betta duck," and on the day of the
murders, he tweeted, "GlenPark or get shot!!!"
Wilson v. State, 30 N.E.3d 1264, 1266 (Ind.Ct.App.
2015) (internal citations and footnote omitted), trans.
denied. The State charged Wilson with two counts of
murder, Class B felony armed robbery, and Class D felony
conspiracy to commit criminal gang activity, also seeking
criminal gang activity sentence enhancements for the murder
and robbery charges.
Wilson's jury trial began on June 30, 2014. The State
sought to introduce Wilson's tweets and Wilson objected;
the trial court overruled the objection and admitted the
evidence. At the close of the trial, the jury found Wilson
guilty as charged, including the criminal gang activity
sentence enhancement. The trial court sentenced Wilson to
consecutive terms of 60 years for one murder conviction, 55
years for the second murder conviction, 6 years for armed
robbery, and 2 years for conspiracy to commit criminal gang
activity, with an additional 60 years added pursuant to the
criminal gang activity sentence enhancement, for an aggregate
sentence of 183 years imprisonment.
Wilson appealed, arguing that (1) the trial court erred by
admitting the tweets into evidence; (2) Wilson's
conviction for conspiracy to commit criminal gang activity
should be vacated because it violated the prohibition against
double jeopardy; and (3) the trial court erred by excluding
Wilson from a portion of trial because of an outburst. This
Court found in favor of Wilson on the second issue, vacating
his conspiracy conviction based on double jeopardy principles
and remanding to the trial court for a sentence reduction.
This Court ruled against Wilson on the other two issues. The
end result of the direct appeal was an aggregate sentence of
181 years imprisonment. Our Supreme Court denied Wilson's
petition to transfer.
On August 11, 2016, Wilson filed a pro se petition for
post-conviction relief; it was later amended by counsel on
February 10, 2017, and again on August 18, 2017. Wilson
argued that his sentence is unconstitutional pursuant to
United States Supreme Court precedent; that the criminal gang
enhancement is unconstitutional as applied to him; and that
he was denied the effective assistance of trial and appellate
The post-conviction court held an evidentiary hearing on
March 6-8, 2018. Trial and appellate counsel each testified
at the hearing. Trial counsel stated that he met with Wilson
five to eight times, spending forty-five to ninety minutes
with him each time. Wilson rejected a plea offer that would
have resulted in an aggregate sentence of 100 years
imprisonment. Trial counsel believed that trial would be an
uphill battle based on eyewitness testimony and Wilson's
tweets; counsel also knew that if convicted, Wilson would
receive consecutive sentences for each murder conviction
because that trial judge typically sentenced defendants in
that manner. Counsel spoke with Wilson's family but no
one told him that Wilson ...