INDIANAPOLIS — The man suspected in killing a Marion County Sheriff’s deputy in July appeared in court on Friday for a pretrial hearing.
Throughout Friday’s hearing, officials discussed a proposed trial date as well as the recent release of a video of the incident by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and the coverage of that video by the media.
Orlando Mitchell initially appeared in court on July 14, after he allegedly strangled Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy John Durm during an escape attempt. The prosecutor told Mitchell at that time, as well as Special Judge Mark Smith from Hendricks County, that they are seeking the death penalty in this case.
According to previous reports, Mitchell was returning from a hospital visit when he allegedly attacked Durm inside the Marion County Detention Center’s sally port on July 10. Mitchell then allegedly stole the sheriff’s van and later crashed the vehicle.
During Friday’s hearing, officials proposed a September 2026 trial date for this particular case. Raymond Casanova, a member of the defense, said that generally in terms of time, the cases last around 2.5 years.
Officials looked at some other death penalty cases across the state to come up with the September 2026 date. Officials also considered the other murder trial for Mitchell, currently scheduled for January 2024. According to previous reports, Mitchell was charged in relation to a deadly shooting in September 2022 near a daycare on the near west side that resulted in the death of Krystal Walton.
“Additionally, judge, I think the courts should take into consideration the recent publicity in this case and how that will affect scheduling as well,” Casanova said. “Obviously, even in a death penalty case, there is a heightened reliability in terms of fairness and due process and certainly publicity that has come out does impact that.”
However, Smith expressed his concern about how far off the date is.
“Why are we scheduling around cases?” Smith asked during the hearing. “Why can’t we come up with our own date?”
Officials also discussed the frustration surrounding last week’s press conference, where the Marion County Sheriff’s Office released the video showing Durm’s death.
According to previous reports, this was the first time Durm’s critical incident video was shown to the public. The videos released also provided a timeline that led to Durm’s death and outlined recent policy changes as well as an update on two deputies fired because of their “job performance” on the day Durm was killed.
Smith said he was not notified about the news conference until 12 p.m. that day. Officials with the prosecution said that they were notified of the conference that morning by a local news article.
Smith said the thing that frustrated him the most about the conference was that the state “state specifically asked for a discovery protective order against defense counsel and all their witnesses for doing the exact same thing that (their) witness did…”
“You know, I am a patient guy but I can tell you going forward my patience and tolerance for that type of thing… the tone and tenor of this type of hearing will not be consistent with what it is today if this happens again,” he said.
Matthew Bavender, a prosecuting attorney in the case, told the judge during the hearing that they expressed their concerns to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office on whether or not it was appropriate to release the video. Bavender stressed that the office is an independent agency and has independently elected people, so they could not control their decision to release the video.
Smith said that the release of video in cases like this could impact scheduling, jury selection and impact jurors in general.
“That bell has been rung,” he said. “There is nothing that I can do about that… I want to make very clear that if any other agencies that are going to appear on your witness list and engage in a similar type of behavior and it happens again then… again the tone and tenor of this conversation is not going to be the same as it is today.”
Casanova said that from the defense’s perspective, they feel the state violated its protective order. The defense requested for the court to extend the protective order that was initially agreed to. In response to this, Bavender said that the release of the video falls under First Amendment issues.
In response to this, Smith said:
“I would expect you, just like you expect the defense counsel, to be in control of your witnesses and be able to sit down and have a conversation with them and say ‘Hey, this is key evidence in this case. We have got a protective order in place that specifically prevents everything that happened in this case by one of your witnesses.”
At the end of Friday’s hearing, officials scheduled the next pre-trial status conference for 9 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2024. Officials with the defense said that they prefer that Mitchell appear for these hearings in person and not virtually.
As of Friday afternoon, there have not been any other documents filed in relation to this case.