INDIANAPOLIS — During a virtual preliminary hearing Tuesday morning, prosecutors convinced a Marion Superior Court judge to add a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter to the murder count Tyler Newby is already facing for the killing of Dorian Murrell, 18, during the second night of rioting in downtown Indianapolis in the spring of 2020.
Newby remains free on bond, which is highly unusual in a murder case, and attended the video hearing before judge Angela Davis.
Deputy prosecutor Kristin Orr told the court that the state’s case will rely on Newby’s own statement to police early on the morning of May 31, 2020, after he admitted he shot Murrell in self defense near the intersection of Market and Pennsylvania Street.
Defense attorney John Keiffner argued against the motion to amend, which had been pending for two months, because he said he felt there was no evidence of voluntary manslaughter and none was reflected in the probable cause affidavit.
Judge Jones instructed both sides to report back to her by Friday for any last-minute issues before the case begins next Tuesday morning.
Longtime defense attorney and former prosecutor Jack Crawford, who has no role in the trial, sees the Marion County prosecutor’s motion to add a lesser charge as an indication of weakness in the state’s case.
“It’s usually me in my position as a defense lawyer who’s asking the court to include a lesser offense to the jury. In this instance, it’s the state, the prosecutor asking for that. That’s very unusual.
“The state clearly doesn’t have a great deal of confidence in their murder charge. Otherwise they’d stick with it.”
The Marion County prosecutor chose to not comment when asked about the decision to provide the lesser included charge.
If Newby is convicted of murder, he could conceivably spend the rest of his life in prison.
A conviction of voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum 30-year sentence with the potential of all prison time suspended in favor of probation.
Newby told police that he was knocked to the ground just before 2:30 a.m. and fired at Murrell as the 18-year-old loomed over him.
Keiffner declined an on-camera interview in order to focus on trial preparation but instead offered this statement on his client’s behalf:
“No matter what charge or charges the State puts in front of the jury, my client has always maintained that he had no choice but to act in self defense after being surrounded and attacked from behind. He turned himself in shortly after he was attacked and has fully cooperated in this investigation every step of the way.
“He looks forward to the truth coming out at trial.”
As Crawford has worked both sides of a criminal case, he was able to imagine what the competing arguments will be.
“’As they moved in on him and stood above him, he was on the ground and felt like he was going to be seriously harmed by these men, and that’s why he did what he did,’” he said, paraphrasing a potential defense claim. “As a prosecutor I argue to that jury, ‘You can’t take the law into your own hands. He shot and killed an unarmed man, and, apparently, he suffered no injuries, Mr. Newby. Just because you’re excited, just because it’s a difficult, dangerous situation, it doesn’t justify you to be judge, jury and executioner and decide that you’re going to kill a man that is threatening you.’”
Murrell’s family likewise denies Newby’s claims of self-defense.
“The evidence, and even Tyler Newby’s statement, does not support that,” said Corey Goodridge, Murrell’s cousin. “Tyler Newby hisself stated that even he did not know who attacked him, if he was attacked. He said he just turned around and fired at the first person he seen. That’s not self defense. There was no threat towards him at the time if that’s what happened, and voluntary manslaughter is not something that should be on the table. We do want a murder conviction because that was a murder.”
While Crawford said that the voluntary manslaughter charge could pave the way for a guilty plea to a lesser count, Goodridge said the family has been assured that the prosecutor intends to take this case to trial.
“A plea bargain, that’s not something that we would not be willing to, that’s not something that we want, and that’s something that the prosecutor has told us they’re not going for, and we hope that they stick to that.”
Keiffner told CBS4 that his client is also not interested in a plea agreement to avoid trial.
Jury selection is set to begin next Tuesday morning.