INDIANAPOLIS – A rise in COVID-19 cases is forcing all jury trials in Marion County to be suspended.
The cancellations will begin next week and last until mid-January
Those delays come after prior shutdowns over the last 8 months made it difficult or impossible to safely seat a jury for any criminal case and has already created a significant backlog of cases.
That means justice for many families will be delayed.
On Valentine’s Day in mid-February, police were called to a deadly shooting on Hemlock just south of the state fairgrounds, which claimed the life of 20-year-old Chad Smitherman.
Court records unsealed this week, show murder charges have now been filed against 19-year-old Jahiem Battle.
“I’ve been waiting on this day for 9 months and it’s wonderful,” said Lisa Smitherman.
Chad’s mother Lisa says having her sons accused killer behind bars is a huge relief to her family.
“I know with COVID it’s going to take a while to go to trial, but I want to be there,” said Lisa.
“Oftentimes the trial is the closure to that loss of life and we’re not able to provide that right now,” said Marion County prosecutor Ryan Mears.
Prosecutor Mears admits families like Lisa’s will have to be patient because Marion County courtrooms haven’t seen a single murder trial since the pandemic began.
“We haven’t tried or resolved any murder cases over the last 8 months, but we continue to file murder cases and the number of outstanding cases continues to increase and we’re not putting a dent in that backlog,” said Mears.
While he supports the decision to suspend all trials until January 15th, with a record-breaking spike in homicides this year, Mears expects significant delays once trials resume.
“There is no layer of the criminal justice system that hasn’t been touched by the pandemic,” said Mears. “We’re not at a crisis point yet, but we’re getting very close.”
“I have the patience of saint. I’m not going anywhere. If it takes two years, I’ll be here waiting,” said Smitherman.
The Indiana Supreme Court has issued clear guidelines that suspects who request speedy trials be put at the front of line when trials resume next year, but the prosecutor even that guidance still present some challenges.