BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – A federal court ruled that the man convicted of killing IU student Jill Behrman should be released unless the state calls for a retrial.
The ruling, handed down Monday from U.S. District Court Judge James R. Sweeney of the Southern District of Indiana, said the legal counsel for John Myers II was ineffective.
“The State of Indiana shall vacate all criminal penalties stemming from Mr. Myers’ murder conviction,” the ruling said, “and release him from custody pursuant to that conviction unless the State of Indiana elects to retry Mr. Myers within 120 days.”
Myers was convicted of killing Behrman in 2006. Behrman disappeared during a bike ride in 2000. Her remains were found in 2003.
Myers unsuccessfully tried to challenge his conviction, which the Indiana Court of Appeals and Indiana Supreme Court both upheld.
In his petition to the court, Myers argued that his counsel was ineffective, that the state presented false evidence and that the state withheld evidence that could have cleared him. The judge said ineffective counsel violated Myers' Sixth Amendment rights.
From the ruling:
"After reviewing the record and the parties’ briefs in detail, the Court concludes that Mr. Myers received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights Most notably, Mr. Myers’s counsel made false statements to the jury during opening arguments, which counsel admitted to the Indiana Supreme Court in a subsequent attorney disciplinary proceeding."
The ruling said Myers' counsel failed to object to two significant categories of evidence that seriously compromised Myers' defense and effectively tainted his 2006 trial. Patrick Baker was the lead attorney on Myers' case.
Baker released the following statement regarding the ruling:
Our legal team initially took on Mr. Myers’ murder case in April of 2006 pro bono because we believed in his innocence, as we still do. We fight for the Constitutional rights of our clients, and when necessary, take on difficult and unpopular causes in the interest of justice. We are very pleased the Court’s Order has given John Myers and his family renewed hope. We express our heartfelt sympathies to the Behrman family and will continue to pray for all involved.
Myers was sentenced to 65 years. He's being held at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.
The 147-page ruling conceded that a new trial "will likely come at a considerable cost--to the State and to the victim's family and community--but the Constitution and its protections demand a new trial in this case."
Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega released the following statement about the ruling:
We have received notice of the Federal Court of Appeals decision granting the Defendant’s Writ of Habeas Corpus. I have been in contact with the victim’s parents, Eric and Marilyn Behrman, as well as the lead investigator, Detective (Ret.) Rick Lang.
Needless to say, we are all disappointed with this outcome as believed that after 13 years, the jury’s guilty verdict was final. I have spoken with the Indiana Attorney’s General’s Office and they are just analyzing the opinion and its ramifications. Thus, it is premature to discuss the next step in the case. However, I do plan on meeting with the victims and the investigator before any decision is made.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill spoke with Fox 59, saying "We have communicated with the Morgan County prosecuting attorney Steve Sonnega letting him know of the decision and our office will as usual undertake to review the process and determine next steps.”
Find the judge's ruling below: