Indy families frustrated by backlog of criminal cases as Marion County pauses jury trials

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INDIANAPOLIS — A spike in COVID-19 cases has forced the Marion County court system to pause all jury trials for the next two weeks.

Court administrators say more than 40 staff members tested positive over a 72 hours span this week.

That move takes place as prosecutors are struggling to dig out from an already huge backlog of criminal cases.

Normally, courts in Marion County have a backlog of about 25,000 total criminal cases.

Because of COVID-related restrictions over the last couple of years, the number of pending cases has jumped to around 37,500.

Those numbers represent families who are frustrated and exhausted as they wait for justice.

An argument during a family BBQ at the Blackburn Terrace apartments along Baltimore Avenue in August 2019 ended in a shooting.

Court records show the alleged gunman, Brandon Hughes, was charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery, but more than two years later Hughes has still not gone to trial.

“Each time we’ve been told we’re going to trial, it gets delayed again. It’s happened multiple, multiple times,” said PJ Willis.

PJ’s son survived being shot 7 times, but because the suspect was able to post bond in early 2020, the case has repeatedly been delayed. It had finally been set to go to trial next week, but was rescheduled again because of COVID restrictions.

“There’s been a lot of anxiety, a lot of anxiety on my behalf and my sons behalf. There’s just been a lot of anxiety,” said Willis.

“The criminal justice system hasn’t been immune to the pandemic,” said Marion County prosecutor Ryan Mears.

Prosecutor Ryan Mears admits the courts have had to prioritize cases where the suspects remain behind bars.

“Because we can only do 1 or 2 trials a week, we are looking at people who are in custody first,” said Mears.

Mears also preached patience because digging out from the court backlog, which includes 189 pending murder trials, at least 40 more than normal, won’t happen overnight.

“We’re hopeful we can continue to work through those cases and bring justice for families most impacted by violent crime, but it’s going to take time,” said Mears.

Still for her part, PJ believes the court backlog is hurting public safety in the Circle City.

“It ignites the violence in the city we’re having. It doesn’t show there are consequences for individuals actions,” said Willis.

PJ also questioned why courts were being restricted when the city is welcoming tens of thousands of visitors from out of town for the College Football Championship.

The prosecutor added that because they only held 135 jury trials in Marion County all of last year, the fewer trials led to a higher conviction rate.

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