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Walmsley v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 29, 2019

Nathaniel Walmsley, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

          Appeal from the Ripley Circuit Court The Honorable Ryan King, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 69C01-1711-MR-1

          Attorneys for Appellant Stacy R. Uliana Bargersville, Indiana Dorie Maryan Maryan Law, LLC Bargersville, Indiana.

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General Justin F. Roebel Supervising Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana


         Case Summary

         [¶1] A person who kills another human being while committing one of several enumerated felonies, including delivery of a narcotic drug, is guilty of felony murder. In this case, the State charged Nathaniel Walmsley with felony murder after he injected his wife Rachel with a drug and she died of an overdose, claiming that the injection constituted "delivery" of the drug. Nathaniel filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court denied. Because the evidence shows that Nathaniel and Rachel jointly acquired possession of the drug for their own use, Nathaniel did not "deliver" the drug to Rachel when he injected her. We therefore reverse the trial court's denial of Nathaniel's motion to dismiss the felony-murder charge.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On July 30, 2017, Nathaniel texted James Alvin Trimnell asking for a "G" for "100." Appellant's App. Vol. II p. 18. Later that day, Trimnell delivered either fentanyl or a combination of heroin and fentanyl to Nathaniel and Rachel's Batesville home.[1] After Trimnell left the Walmsley home, Nathaniel and Rachel went into the bathroom, where Nathaniel cooked the drug. Nathaniel injected Rachel with her consent and then injected himself. Shortly thereafter, Rachel passed out on the bathroom floor. Hours later, Nathaniel took Rachel to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

         [¶3] Following a three-month investigation, on November 9, 2017, the State charged Trimnell and Nathaniel with felony murder. Nathaniel's charging information provides as follows:

On or about July 30, 2017, Nathaniel Walmsley, while committing the crime of Dealing a Narcotic Drug, which is to knowingly or intentionally deliver a narcotic drug, that is: heroin (pure or adulterated), did kill another human being, that is: Rachel Walmsley[.]

Id. at 21 (formatting altered). The charges against Trimnell and Nathaniel were newsworthy, as it was believed to be the first time in Indiana that someone had been charged with felony murder for the overdose death of a consenting adult. See, e.g., 2 Charged with Felony Murder in Batesville OD Death, The Indiana Lawyer (Nov. 9, 2017),; Diana Raver, Batesville Men Accused of Murder, The Herald-Tribune (Nov. 8, 2017), (Ripley County Prosecutor: "This is the first felony murder charge based on an overdose case in Ripley County and possibly the first in Indiana. . . . A lot of people will be watching to see how this case unfolds.").

         [¶4] Thereafter, Trimnell and Nathaniel filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Indiana Code section 35-34-1-4(a)(5), alleging that the facts recited in their charging informations did not constitute felony murder. Pursuant to Indiana Code section 35-34-1-8(a)-which allows a defendant to submit affidavits and documentary evidence with a motion to dismiss-Nathaniel designated Trimnell's police interview (Exhibit A) as well as his police interview (Exhibit B) and affidavit (Exhibit C). Tr. pp. 8-10. Nathaniel's affidavit alleges as follows: (1) on the day of Rachel's death, Nathaniel and Rachel agreed to purchase heroin from Trimnell; (2) Nathaniel and Rachel "used Rachel's tip money that she retrieved from her purse to buy what [they] believed to be heroin from Trimnell"; and (3) Trimnell handed Nathaniel the drugs "in Rachel's presence [and] with her knowledge." Ex. C. Although Section 35-34-1-8(b) allows the State to submit documentary evidence to refute the allegations in a motion to dismiss, the State did not do so here. Following a hearing, the trial court denied Trimnell's and Nathaniel's motions to dismiss and certified the orders for interlocutory appeal. We accepted jurisdiction in each case.

         [¶5] On December 31, 2018, this Court reversed the trial court's denial of Trimnell's motion to dismiss. The majority held that Trimnell could not be tried for felony murder for the overdose death of Rachel based on the facts and circumstances of the case. Trimnell v. State, 119 N.E.3d 92 (Ind.Ct.App. 2018), trans. not sought. This author concurred in the result, reasoning that the felony-murder statute, as a matter of law, cannot apply when the death "occurs after-not during-the delivery of drugs." Id. at 98 (Vaidik, C.J., concurring in result and "express[ing] no opinion as to whether Nathaniel's act of administering the drugs to Rachel constitutes dealing or felony murder.").[2]

         [¶6] Nathaniel's appeal is now before us. We held oral argument ...

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