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Schuler v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

October 18, 2019

Kevin Andrew Schuler Appellant (Defendant),
v.
State of Indiana Appellee (Plaintiff).

          Appeal from the Harrison Superior Court, No. 31D01-1308-MR-508 The Honorable Vicki L. Carmichael, Special Judge On Direct Appeal.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Brent Westerfeld Indianapolis, Indiana Andrew J. Borland Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Andrew A. Kobe Deputy Attorney General Jesse R. Drum Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM

         After remand in Schuler v. State, 112 N.E.3d 180 (Ind. 2018), the trial court entered a revised order sentencing Kevin Andrew Schuler to life imprisonment without parole ("LWOP") for his conviction for murder and to sixty-five years for felony murder. Schuler appeals the revised order and argues the LWOP sentence must be vacated because the trial court impermissibly relied on non-statutory aggravating circumstances. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The facts are set out in greater detail in Schuler. Briefly stated, the evidence showed Schuler and Austin Scott broke into the home that Asenath Arnold shared with Gary Henderson, Scott fatally stabbed Henderson, and Schuler intentionally killed Arnold during a burglary of the home. Specifically,

Schuler punched Arnold and she stumbled back to her bed. Schuler then took the singletree [a wooden bar normally used to hold horses together] and struck Arnold on top of her head. Arnold prayed and pleaded with Schuler for her life. According to Scott, Schuler swung the singletree with two hands "like a sledgehammer," striking Arnold at least twice and as many as four times.

Id. at 184 (quoting St. Ex. 30-4 at 47:53-52:00). Although Scott stabbed Arnold in the face, Schuler would later tell police, "I'm almost positive I killed her." Id. (quoting Tr. Vol. 2 at 250). Arnold's head was significantly disfigured in the attack, and an autopsy revealed Arnold died from multiple blunt force injuries and sharp force injuries to the head. Id.

         Schuler pled guilty to Count 1, the murder of Arnold, and Count 2, the felony murder of Henderson, and in exchange the State agreed to dismiss its request for the death penalty and instead to request LWOP. The parties agreed the court alone would determine whether to impose LWOP or a term of years. Id. at 185. After a hearing, the court orally stated its reasons for sentencing Schuler to LWOP on Count 1 and sixty-five years on Count 2 to be served consecutively. Id.

         Schuler raised four issues in his first appeal. We affirmed on the first three issues but on the fourth remanded for a clearer sentencing statement that satisfies Harrison v. State, 644 N.E.2d 1243 (Ind. 1995). On remand, the trial court issued a revised order sentencing Schuler to LWOP on Count 1 and sixty-five years on Count 2. Schuler appeals the revised order.

         Discussion and Decision

         This Court reviews a sentencing order for an abuse of discretion. Schuler, 112 N.E.3d at 190. An abuse occurs only if the decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court, or the reasonable, probable, and actual deductions to be drawn therefrom. Rice v. State, 6 N.E.3d 940, 943 (Ind. 2014). An abuse of discretion occurs if, among other things, the reasons given by the sentencing court are improper as a matter of law. Schuler, 112 N.E.3d at 190. This Court presumes that a court that conducts a sentencing hearing renders its decision solely on the basis of relevant and probative evidence. Id. at 189.

         Indiana's statute requires only one listed aggravating circumstance for imposition of an LWOP sentence. See Ind. Code § 35-50-2-9(a). But in determining whether to impose LWOP, the trial court must limit the aggravating circumstances eligible for consideration to those specified in the statute. Schuler, 112 N.E.3d at 191. The court may not consider ...


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