Prosecutor reprimanded for criticizing execution ruling

Picture courtesy of Johnson Co Prosecutor's Office

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court reprimanded a prosecutor for criticizing a judge who ruled a man couldn’t be executed for the rape and slaying of a Franklin College student.

The order issued Friday found Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper violated professional conduct rules on statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge.

Cooper said in 2014 he was suspicious about a judge in northern Indiana’s St. Joseph County reviewing whether Michael Dean Overstreet was competent to face execution for the 1997 death of 18-year-old Kelly Eckart of Boggstown. Her body was found in a Brown County ravine, strangled and with a gunshot wound to the head.

Judge Jane Woodward Miller ruled Overstreet was delusion and blocked his execution. Overstreet remains in prison under the death sentence from his 2000 trial.

Cooper told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/2mBWHTJ ) that the ruling Friday from the state’s highest court reaffirmed a hearing judge’s January recommendation that he be reprimanded. Cooper said he framed a copy of the reprimand and hung it next to Overstreet’s death sentence order on his office wall.

The Indiana Supreme Court moved the Overstreet case to St. Joseph County after a judge in central Indiana’s Johnson County recused herself for health reasons.

“I was angry and suspicious when this case was sent to a distant judge who is not accountable to the Johnson County citizenry or a grieving mother who couldn’t even afford to drive up for the hearing,” Cooper said after Miller’s 2014 ruling. “The idea that this convicted rapist murdering monster is too sick to be executed is nothing short of outrageous and is an injustice to the victim, her mother, the jury and the hundreds of people who worked to convict this animal.”

The judge who recommended Cooper’s reprimand cited Cooper’s lack of prior discipline, apology to the judge and involvement with Eckart’s family before the comments for not seeking more severe punishment, such as suspension or disbarment.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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