June 1 – A Kokomo man convicted of attempted armed robbery will get a new trial after the Indiana Court of Appeals rules the jury never knew a key witness dodged about 200 years of incarceration while testifying against him.
Michael Yates was convicted and sentenced to 20 years on the charge in 2009 after Launden Luckett testified that Yates was his accomplice in an armed robbery at Garden Square flats in 2008.
Four people were in the apartment during the robbery and a neighbor chased the two suspects with a golf club as they fled, according to court documents.
During the trial, all of the witnesses said they could not identify Yates as one of the robbers or described someone who did not match Yates’ appearance. Only one witness said she had a “feeling” it was Yates because of his hairstyle and eyes.
In an effort to obtain Luckett’s testimony against Yates, prosecutors dismissed his attempted robbery charges and declined to act on grand jury indictments of murder, attempted murder or conspiracy to commit murder. . Charges of stealing a car and receiving stolen property were also dismissed.
Luckett faced more than 200 years in prison for the charges which were either dismissed or not prosecuted. Instead, he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to 15 years in prison as part of a plea bargain.
During his testimony, Luckett informed the jury that he would serve 15 years for armed robbery, but also said the charge would be dismissed.
At a conference without the presence of the jury, a discussion ensued about whether more information should be obtained from Luckett to let the jury know the extent to which he had been induced to testify.
Yates’ attorney told prosecutors that Yates had a right for the jury to know more about the scope of Luckett’s proposed plea deal. Prosecutors responded that Luckett had already testified to his 15-year sentence.
Howard County I Superior Court Judge William Menges ruled prosecutors could speak in ‘generalities’ and there was an ‘implication’ Luckett was ‘getting much more in return for his testimony’, appeals court heard in his decision.
Ultimately, the jury learned of Luckett’s 15-year plea deal, but not that other charges were dismissed and he avoided a potential prison sentence of more than 200 years.
At Yates’ sentencing hearing, he told Menges that his attorney was not representing him properly and requested another attorney for his appeal.
Yates appealed his conviction the same year, which was rejected. In 2020, he filed an amended petition for post-conviction review, arguing that he was denied effective counsel at his trial and appeal hearing, which was also denied.
However, after Yates appealed that decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, saying that the fact that the jury did not know the extent of Luckett’s plea bargain made them potentially biased against Yates.
The court said the evidence “clearly supported the argument that there was an uncorrected misrepresentation” by prosecutors, but Yates’ attorney never raised that issue in his appeal.
“Indeed, the prosecutor actively resisted disclosure of the extent of Luckett’s incitement, and the trial court strongly discouraged defense counsel from further exploration,” the decision reads. . “The final decision was that the jury would learn generalities, not specifics.”
The appeals court said it was particularly damaging to Yates because Luckett’s credibility was crucial to securing his conviction due to the inability of other witnesses to identify Yates in the crime.
“Had the jury been properly informed of Luckett’s criminal exposure and the benefit he received in return for his testimony, Luckett’s credibility may well have been undermined,” the court ruled. “And his credibility was central to the conviction of Yates.”
The appeals court ruled that Yates’ lawyer “acted wrongly” by not raising the issue and that he had not received effective assistance. The court overturned the denial of his post-conviction reparations request and sent the case back for a new trial.
Yates is currently serving a 165-year prison sentence after being found guilty of aiding, instigating or causing the murder and four other felony charges in the 2008 murder of Abby Rethlake.
Prosecutors said Yates drove Luckett and Jesse Harris to the Rethlake apartment complex, where they opened fire on the vehicle, killing Rethlake and injuring her friend.
Prosecutors said the shooting was prompted by the Gateway Gardens robbery in which Yates was convicted of attempted armed robbery.
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, [email protected] or on Twitter @carsongerber1.