from the Vanderburgh Circuit Court The Honorable Kelli E.
Fink, Magistrate Trial Court Cause No. 82C01-1808-MR-5903
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Matthew J. McGovern Anderson, Indiana
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Caroline G. Templeton Deputy Attorney General
Paris Cornell appeals his convictions and sentence for Felony
Murder and Level 3 Felony Conspiracy to Commit
Armed Robbery. Cornell was fifteen years old at the time
of the offenses, but was tried and convicted as an adult. On
appeal, Cornell argues the following: (1) he was denied equal
protection under the Fourteenth Amendment when the trial
court allowed the State to strike one of only two Black
jurors; (2) the trial court erroneously admitted inadmissible
hearsay evidence; (3) the erroneous admission of hearsay
evidence violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause
of the Sixth Amendment; and (4) his sentence was
inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and his
character. Finding no error and that the sentence was not
inappropriate, we affirm.
around 4:00 AM on July 18, 2018, brothers Joan and Kevin
Colon went to Sam's Food Market in Evansville. When they
arrived, Joan went inside to buy cigarettes and gas and Kevin
remained outside; Kevin had joined his brother on the trip to
Sam's hoping to meet someone to buy marijuana.
A few minutes before Joan and Kevin arrived at Sam's,
Denyae Burris, Jacorion Madison, Jahkei Mitchell, and
Cornell, four friends and teenagers, also went to Sam's.
The four went inside to buy some food and then exited the
store. As they exited, Keyovie Sargent (Jacorion's
cousin, known as "Biggie") drove up to the store in
a red car with Kyavion Brown, another teenager, in the
passenger seat. Kevin, who was intoxicated at the time,
approached Biggie's car with a twenty-dollar bill, hoping
to buy some marijuana from Biggie and Kyavion. Meanwhile,
Cornell and Jahkei walked around the corner of the building,
out of view of any surveillance cameras, and then walked back
around to Biggie's car. Cornell then spoke briefly with
Biggie before going back around the side of the building
again with Jahkei, this time bringing Kevin along with them.
Soon after Cornell, Jahkei, and Kevin went together to the
side of Sam's, Kyavion, still sitting in Biggie's
passenger seat, heard someone say "b*tch," tr. vol.
III p. 4; immediately afterward, both Jacorion and Kyavion
heard a gunshot. After hearing the gunshot, Jacorion and
Denyae got into Biggie's car, and the group drove away.
When Joan eventually exited the store, he looked around for
Kevin but could not find him anywhere. Thinking Kevin may
have started walking back home, Joan got in his car and left
Sam's, but when he didn't see Kevin anywhere along
the route, he drove back to Sam's. He eventually found
Kevin collapsed on the ground, unresponsive, on the side of
the building. Joan called his other brother, who told him to
call 911. The clerk working at Sam's ended up calling
911. When police and EMTs arrived, the EMTs determined that
Kevin had been shot in the upper chest. He was then taken to
the hospital around 4:29 AM, and he was pronounced dead at
4:41 AM. The autopsy conducted later that day confirmed that
death was a result of a gunshot wound to the heart and that
death would have occurred within a few seconds to a few
minutes of the shot being fired.
Jacorion testified that he had seen Jahkei with a black
handgun earlier that day at Denyae's house, and that he
saw Jahkei with the gun again after the incident when he,
Denyae, Jahkei, and Cornell returned to Denyae's house.
At some point afterward, Jahkei went to his cousin's
mother's house, after which his cousin "found"
a gun at the house and disposed of it in the Ohio River. Tr.
Vol. II p. 191. He claimed he disposed of the weapon because
he felt "it was disrespectful" to have the gun at
this mother's house. Id. at 191, 193.
Law enforcement recovered a .40-caliber Geco shell case from
the Sam's parking lot. During a search of Cornell's
bedroom, police recovered an unfired round of .40-caliber
Smith and Wesson ammunition, a bullet box, a taser, one
banana-style .22-caliber magazine, a .22-caliber bullet, and
a .380-caliber bullet, as well as clothing and sandals that
matched what Cornell wore the morning of the shooting. Police
also located a fake plastic handgun in a kitchen cabinet in
On August 29, 2018, the juvenile court waived jurisdiction of
Cornell on the basis that he committed the alleged offense of
murder when he was a child between twelve and sixteen years
of age. The next day, the State charged Cornell as
an adult with two counts of felony murder, one count of Level
3 felony attempted armed robbery, and one count of Level 3
felony conspiracy to commit armed robbery. The State also
alleged that Cornell committed the charged offenses while
using a firearm, thus making him eligible for the firearm
A jury trial was held from March 18, 2019, to March 20, 2019.
During voir dire, three prospective jurors were struck
peremptorily. The first, Ms. S., testified that when her son
was nineteen, he had been convicted of possession of
paraphernalia and criminal mischief, and that her father had
been robbed twice when she was a teenager. She stated that
she "may not have an open mind about this case" and
that she "may not be" a fair juror. Tr. Vol. II p.
26. The second struck juror, Ms. H., testified that she had
been prosecuted in 2006 for visiting a common nuisance but
was treated fairly, and that she would be fair and impartial
in this case.
The third prospective juror that the State struck, Mr. M.,
testified that he pleaded guilty in 2017 to charges related
to the battering of his son, who was seventeen years old at
the time, after his son told him that his girlfriend was
pregnant. Mr. M. agreed that it was something he "really
regret[s]," but that he nonetheless felt the process was
fair and testified that he would not hold anything against
the State as a result of that prosecution. Mr. M. was one of
two Black people on the jury panel. Cornell raised a
Batson objection at the time the State
exercised the peremptory challenge against Mr. M. and the
trial court overruled it, finding that there was no
discrimination. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury
found Cornell guilty as charged on all counts and found that
the firearm enhancement applied.
At a sentencing hearing on April 15, 2019, the trial court
merged the two murder convictions and merged the attempted
robbery count with the conspiracy count, entering judgment of
conviction only on the murder and conspiracy to commit armed
robbery verdicts. The trial court sentenced Cornell to
fifty-two years for murder and seven years for conspiracy to
commit armed robbery, to be served concurrently. Due to the
firearm sentencing enhancement, the trial court enhanced the
murder sentence by ten years, for an aggregate term of
sixty-two years, to be served in the Department of
Correction. Cornell now appeals.
Cornell first argues that the trial court erred by allowing
the State to peremptorily strike one of only two Black people
from the jury panel, thereby violating Cornell's equal
protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.
In Batson v. Kentucky, the United States Supreme
Court held that a State's exercise of a peremptory
challenge is subject to the Equal Protection Clause, which
"forbids the prosecutor to challenge potential jurors
solely on account of their race or on the assumption that
black jurors as a group will be unable impartially to
consider the State's case against a black
defendant." 476 U.S. 79, 89 (1986). "Purposeful
racial discrimination in selection of the venire violates a
defendant's rights to equal protection because it denies
him the protection that a trial by jury is intended to
secure." Id. at 86.
Our Supreme Court has explained the required burden-shifting
analysis for a Batson challenge as follows:
The Batson Court developed a three-step test to
determine whether a peremptory challenge has been used
improperly to disqualify a potential juror on the basis of
race. First, the party contesting the peremptory challenge
must make a prima facie showing of discrimination on the
basis of race. Second, after the contesting party makes a
prima facie showing of discrimination, the burden shifts to
the party exercising its peremptory challenge to present a
race-neutral explanation for using the challenge. Third, if a
race-neutral explanation is proffered, the trial court must
then decide whether the challenger has carried its burden of
proving purposeful discrimination.
Jeter v. State, 888 N.E.2d 1257, 1263 (Ind. 2008)
(internal citations omitted). The decision of the trial court
regarding whether a peremptory challenge is discriminatory is
accorded great deference on appeal and will be set aside only
if it is clearly erroneous. Forrest v. State, 757
N.E.2d 1003, 1004 (Ind. 2001).
During voir dire, the State used one of its peremptory
challenges to strike Mr. M., one of only two Black people,
from the panel of potential jurors. Cornell made a
Batson challenge, stating that "the record
would show that Mr. [M.] is only one of two African
American's [sic] on this whole panel. He's the only
one in this configuration, and [Cornell] is African American
as well." Tr. Vol. II p. 60. In response, the State
offered the following reason for striking Mr. M.:
THE STATE: . . . [H]is questionnaire outlines that he was
convicted of a crime with his 19-year-old son as the victim,
and I discussed that with him, and essentially his, he plead
guilty to all of that and the State's reason for striking
him is the similarities between [Cornell's] age and his
son and the sympathy that people make mistakes and the State
would feel that based on that episode and the circumstances
where Mr. McIntosh says that his son got someone pregnant and
made a mistake, the State believes that the age of [Cornell]
and our case would strike too close at home to his son's
and the regret for him having battered his son. So, that is
the reason why the State is striking him.
Id. at 60-61. The trial court overruled
Cornell's Batson challenge, reasoning that
"we have two African Americans on the jury panel,"
and that therefore "[w]e have at least someone else who
might be eligible, so I am not going to find evidence of
discrimination." Id. at 61. The trial court
concluded that the State's reason for striking the juror
was race neutral.
Under the first step of the Batson analysis, Cornell
argues that the striking of one of only two Black people on
the jury panel shows prima facie discrimination. "A
prima facie showing requires the defendant to show that
peremptory challenges were used to remove members of a
cognizable racial group from the jury pool and that the facts
and circumstances raise an inference that the removal was
because of race." Hardister v. State, 849
N.E.2d 563, 576 (Ind. 2006). The removal of the only Black
juror from a panel is sufficient to establish prima facie
discrimination under Batson. Cartwright v.
State, 962 N.E.2d 1217, 1222 (Ind. 2012). On the other
hand, "[t]he removal of some African American jurors by
the use of peremptory challenges does not, by itself, raise
an inference of racial discrimination." Highler v.
State, 854 N.E.2d 823, 827 (Ind. 2006).
Cornell acknowledges that the removal of some, but not all,
Black jurors via peremptory challenges does not create a
prima facie case of discrimination. Instead, he centers his
argument on the following language from Batson:
We have observed that under some circumstances proof of
discriminatory impact "may for all practical purposes
demonstrate unconstitutionality because in various
circumstances the discrimination is very difficult to explain
on nonracial grounds." For example, "total or
seriously disproportionate exclusion of [Black
people] from jury venires,"  "is itself such an
'unequal application of the law . . . as to show
Batson, 476 U.S. at 93 (emphasis added) (quoting
Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 241 (1976)
(internal quotations omitted)) (internal citations omitted).
Cornell contends that the removal of one of two Black jurors
from the jury panel constitutes the type of
"disproportionate" exclusion contemplated by
Batson and thus makes for a prima facie case of
We disagree. In Hardister v. State, our Supreme
Court found no prima facie discrimination where the State
exercised five of six peremptory challenges to strike
potential Black jurors from the panel, which left only two
remaining Black jurors, one of whom was struck by the
defense. 849 N.E.2d at 576. If striking six of seven total
Black jurors from the panel was not sufficient to create a
prima facie case of discrimination, then we would be hard
pressed to find prima facie discrimination in Cornell's
Even if Cornell had successfully showed prima facie
discrimination, we nonetheless find that the explanation
offered by the State for striking Mr. M. was race neutral,
and that the trial court was within its discretion in
concluding that Cornell had not carried the burden of showing
purposeful discrimination by the State. "If the
explanation, on its face, is based on something other than
race, the explanation will be deemed race-neutral."
Forrest, 757 N.E.2d at 1004. The State's
proffered explanation for striking Mr. M. was based on Mr.
M.'s previous involvement with the criminal justice
system, and for the similarity in age between his own son and
Cornell. Taken at face value, this is a sufficiently
race-neutral explanation for striking Mr. M.
As for the third and final step of the Batson
analysis, our inquiry is as follows:
Although the ultimate burden of persuasion regarding
purposeful discrimination rests with the party opposing the
strike, "This final step involves evaluating the
persuasiveness of the justification proffered by the
[proponent of the strike]. . . ." Rice v.
Collins, 546 U.S. 333, 338, 126 S.Ct. 969, 163 L.Ed.2d
824 (2006). This point was amplified in Hernandez
[v. New York, 500 U.S. 352 (1991)]. "In the
typical peremptory challenge inquiry, the decisive question
will be whether counsel's race-neutral explanation for a
peremptory challenge should be believed. There will seldom be
much evidence bearing on that issue, and the best evidence
often will be the demeanor of the attorney who exercises the
challenge. As with the state of mind of a juror, evaluation
of the [proponent's] state of mind based on demeanor and
credibility lies peculiarly within a trial judge's
Jeter, 888 N.E.2d at 1264-65 (some internal
citations and quotations omitted).
We find no evidence undermining the demeanor and credibility
of the State when it offered its race-neutral explanation for
striking Mr. M. As such, the trial court did not err in
overruling Cornell's Batson challenge and there
was no ...