New trial ordered for man convicted of murder at 14July 27, 2020
By The Associated Press
SOUTH BEND — A federal judge has ordered a new trial for a man who was 14 when he was convicted more than a decade ago in the fatal shooting of a northern Indiana man.
Dentrell Brown, 26, is entitled to a new trial because his lawyers at trial and in a post-conviction appeal were ineffective, depriving him of the Sixth-Amendment right to counsel, U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson wrote in her recent ruling vacating his conviction.
She ordered the state of Indiana to decide whether to retry Brown or to release him within 120 days, the South Bend Tribune reported.
Brown’s current attorney, Michael Ausbrook, said he was “incredibly happy with the result” in federal court after working on his client's appeal for seven years.
Brown was 14 when he was convicted of murder in 2009 and sentenced to 55 years in prison in the March 2008 shooting in Elkhart of Gerald Wenger, 35.
Brown, who was 13 at the time of Wenger's killing, was convicted of murder during a joint trial with his co-defendant, Joshua Love, after prosecutors argued that he was Love's accomplice in the killing.
Prosecutors relied heavily on testimony from a jailhouse informant who said the pair confessed to their alleged roles in the shooting. But in his federal appeal, Brown argued his trial attorney should have asked the court to instruct the jury that Love’s purported confession to the informant could not be used as evidence against Brown.
Magnus-Stinson agreed in her July 9 ruling, finding Love’s conversation with the informant was inadmissible “hearsay” evidence if used against Brown. The judge also wrote that Brown’s post-conviction appellate lawyer was ineffective because she did not raise the claim that Brown’s trial lawyer failed to limit the informant’s testimony from being used against him.
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