ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
Kevin C. C. Wild Karen M. Freeman-Wilson
Indianapolis, Indiana Attorney General of Indiana
Christopher L. Lafuse
Deputy Attorney General
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
JEROME OWENS, )
Appellant (Defendant Below ), )
v. ) No. 49S00-0009-CR-546
STATE OF INDIANA, )
Appellee (Plaintiff Below ). )
APPEAL FROM THE MARION SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge
Cause No. 49G01-9906-CF-109366
September 17, 2001
SHEPARD, Chief Justice.
Convicted murderer Jerome Owens says the trial court should have excluded his confession
because several hours before he confessed he voluntarily smoked a cigarette laced with
embalming fluid, animal tranquilizer, ether and PCP. It is an impressive factual
claim, but we affirm.
Facts and Procedural History
Owens was the primary suspect in the July 6, 1998, shooting death of
Linda Ferrell. He was eventually arrested on an unrelated charge in Louisville,
Kentucky and brought to Indianapolis for questioning on June 22, 1999. He
signed an advisement of rights and a police interviewer asked him to describe
in writing his activities the night of Ferrells death. Owens agreed and
wrote a six-page account of his relationship with Ferrell in which he denied
any involvement in her murder. The interviewer pointed out that the statement
contained almost no information about the night of the murder. Owens then
changed his story in a videotaped interview.
Owens explained that Ferrell, a former girlfriend, had once promised him money for
a music recording business if he stayed with her. On the evening
of June 22, 1998, he was living with another woman and facing eviction,
and remembered Ferrells offer of financial support. He borrowed a badly dented
white Hyundai Excel that sometimes cut off when put in forward gear, and
went to visit Ferrell. He took his 25-caliber semiautomatic handgun, which he
kept cocked at all times.
Ferrell answered the door, but blocked Owens entrance. She refused Owens request
for money and said that she would not take him back. Angered,
Owens shot Ferrell once in the face, killing her. As Ferrell fell
backward Owens fled, backing the Excel out of the apartment complex at high
speed. Ferrells downstairs neighbor heard the gunshot and saw the beat-up Excel
backing rapidly down the street.
Before his trial, Owens sought to suppress his confession, claiming that he was
under the influence of drugs that rendered his statement involuntary. He testified
that about an hour and a half before he arrived in Indianapolis, he
voluntarily smoked a cigarette laced with embalming fluid, animal tranquilizer, ether and PCP
acquired from some unidentified person at the Louisville jail. The drugs did
not affect his ability to write but slowed down his thinking and actions
and made him stupid, nonchalant, and willing to say basically yeah to whatever
for about five to six hours, during which time he confessed.
See footnote (R.
at 187, 199, 307-08, 327.) He offered no corroborating evidence for this
The trial court denied Owens motion to suppress. A jury found Owens
guilty and the judge sentenced him to fifty-five years for murder and a
concurrent 365 days for unlicensed handgun possession. In this direct appeal, he
claims that the trial court should have excluded his confession because it was
not voluntarily and intelligently given.See footnote
Voluntary Intoxication and Confessions
The touchstone for admissibility of confessions is whether the defendant was compelled .
. . to be a witness against himself. U.S. Const. amend. V.
This inquiry focuses on whether there has been overreaching or misconduct by
the police; there is no Fifth Amendment right to testify only when well
advised or when it is in the defendants best interest. See Colorado
v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157 (1986). A confession may be inadmissible if
the defendant was so intoxicated or impaired as to be unconscious of what
he was doing, or in a state of mania. Luckhart v. State,
736 N.E.2d 227, 231 (Ind. 2000); Houchin v. State, 581 N.E.2d 1228, 1231
(Ind. 1991). A lesser degree of intoxication goes only to the weight
the finder of fact gives to the confession, not its admissibility.
v. State, 683 N.E.2d 574, 576 (Ind. 1997) (confession by defendant claiming to
have been under the influence of alcohol and marijuana properly admitted). In
reviewing the trial courts ruling, we consider only the evidence supporting that decision
plus any unrefuted evidence in the defendants favor. Houchin, 581 N.E.2d at
The Tale of the Tape
The State rebutted Owens claim of a drug-related impairment with his own videotaped
See footnote Throughout his confession, Owens talked, gestured and reacted to questions at
a normal pace. (R. at 304, States Exh. 12.) He appeared
calm but alert, and was responsive to inquiries. (R. at 304, States
see Brooks, 683 N.E.2d at 576 (defendant appeared relaxed, alert and
responsive in videotaped confession). He spoke distinctly and seemed oriented to his
surroundings. (R. at 304, States Exh. 12); see Lambert v. State, 643
N.E.2d 349, 353 (Ind. 1994)(defendant was oriented as to time and place and
did not slur his words). He told his story in a logical
sequence. (R. at 304, States Exh. 12); see Lambert, 643 N.E.2d at
353 (defendant recounted events in logical order).
Owens also demonstrated physical coordination as he sipped a soda, smoked several cigarettes,
and initialed his handwritten statement at various places upon request. (R. at
304, States Exh. 12); see Houchin, 581 N.E.2d at 1232 (defendant showed coordination
by ability to smoke cigarettes). He provided a number of details such
as what the victim was wearing (a nightgown) and not wearing (her eyeglasses),
where she stood and how she fell, and the nature and location of
her fatal wound. (R. at 304, States Exh. 12.) He displayed
awareness of the fix he was in by asking the interviewer at the
conclusion of his statement whether even if I would have lied, you still
would have known . . . ? (R. at 304, States Exh.
12); see Houchin, 581 N.E.2d at 1232 (defendant displayed awareness of his
situation by asking about his likely sentence).
In short, the videotape does not show that Owens was impaired at all,
and there is no particular claim of compulsion. The trial court did
not err in denying his motion to suppress.
We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
Dickson, Sullivan, Boehm, and Rucker, JJ., concur.
Owens also claims that the drugs made him paranoid, which seems at
odds with his claim that they made him excessively cooperative. (R. at
Footnote: In addition to claiming that he was under the influence of drugs,
Owens says his advisement of rights was stale by the time he confessed.
(Appellants Br. at 9.) However, the videotape clearly shows the police
interviewer reviewing the previously signed advisement with Owens just before Owens began telling
what happened the night of the murder. (R. at 304, States Exh.
Owens also says he is of limited intelligence and suffering from mental health
illness. (R. at 67; Appellants Br. at 9.) He offers no
supporting evidence, so this claim is similarly unavailing.
Footnote: Owens chose to testify at trial, and told the jury about the
tainted cigarette. (R. at 327-30.)
Footnote: The State verified that Owens was free of the influence of drugs
at the suppression hearing, to allow the trial judge to compare the real
Owens demeanor to the image on the tape. (R. at 203-04.)