By Russ McQuaid
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Oct. 7, 2014)-- When a serious violent felon is arrested with a firearm in Marion County, which happens hundreds of times a year, the suspect inevitably walks before the bench in Criminal Court 20.
Despite a change in state law, more extensive training and tougher prosection, dozens of such suspects walk out of court free or not convicted of the gun charge on which they were first held.
"In the vast vast majority of gun cases that are filed, particularly in Court 20," said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, "We have a conviction on the lead gun offense, or to a greater or equal other offense, in well over 80 percent of the gun cases we have filed."
Curry supplied FOX59 News with a statistical breakdown of gun cases filed by his office in 2013.
- 391 gun cases were filed in all Superior courts last year. 54 of those cases are still pending and three of the defendants died. 14 cases have been referred to the U.S. Attorney for federal prosecution.
- Of the 320 that were resolved, 239 were found guilty of the lead gun charge or murder or pleaded guilty or were convicted of another charge that would have carried an equal or even heavier penalty than a firearms conviction.
- 15 were convicted on a lesser charge. 50 cases were dismissed or found not guilty or convicted of a non-gun related charge for various reasons.
"We have witnesses who recant, change their mind," said Curry. "Clearly the vast, vast majority of cases that include a gun charge, there's been a conviction on the lead gun charge or a felony on a higher level.
"Are there circumstances where, on occasion, it's been pled down to a lesser charge? Yes, but it is probably, I believe, less than five percent of the time."
An investigation by FOX59's newsgathering partner at the Indianapolis Star revealed the cases of two suspects whose gun charges where plea bargained away or dismissed only to later see the men accused of murder.
Leandrew Beasley, during a previous administration, saw gun charges dropped in favor of lesser counts.
Beasley was later convicted of a 2012 murder.
Anthony Spearman was found not guilty of a 2013 gun charge by a judge who took issue with the original arrest.
Spearman is now accused of the April 2014 murder of a man whose body was found in a westside alley.
IMPD Chief Rick Hite said his officers are frustrated by the repeat offenders they arrest over and over again.
"We have identified some hardened criminals, convicted felons in most cases, who make it very difficult for us," said Hite. "We are taking about a small percentage, less than one percent of the population that we're talking about who engage in that activity, and they need to be sent a message in longterm sentencing, in mandatory sentencing, seems to be the order of the day in those cases."
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has lobbied the statehouse unsuccessfully to make convictions of gun crimes punishable by a mandatory minimum 20 year prison sentence to be served consecutively with other terms.
Curry said now judges have the option to boost a gun felon's sentence once he is successfully prosecuted.
"We have obviously had for some time a possible sentence enhancement if a weapon is used in a crime and in the last legislature that was amended to make it up to a possible additional 20 years for the use of a weapon."