Prosecutors in Marion County secure series of murder convictions but still face massive backlog of murder trials

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INDIANAPOLIS — In recent weeks, prosecutors in Marion County secured a series of murder convictions.

But at the same time, a massive backlog of cases is leaving hundreds of other families still waiting for their day in court.

In September 2017, at Wes Montgomery Park, an 18-year-old was shot to death.

Police used social media records and fingerprints to identify Eugene Jones as the killer and tried to bring him to trial days before the COVID lockdowns went into effect last year.

Booking photo of Eugene Jones

“That literally was set for trial on March 20th, 2020 and then it gets continued because of COVID,” said Prosecutor Ryan Mears.

With the trial delayed, the family of the victim Deante Williams had to wait 16 more months to see Jones convicted of murder.

Photo of murder victim Deante Williams

In a second case, from September 2018, Arnell Davis was shot to death in traffic near 38th and High School Road.

This week prosecutors convicted Keith Smith for that killing.

Despite a string of murder convictions, the prosecutor admits it will likely take years to dig out from the current backlog of cases awaiting trial.

“The last eight homicides trials we’ve gone eight-for-eight securing convictions for murder, but when you look at the dates of those cases it’s 2017 and 2018. Those families have waited a long time to get those verdicts,” said Mears.

Prosecutor Mears says most years Marion County has between 140 and 150 murder cases awaiting trial. Right now it’s close to 200.

“Not being able to try homicide cases for one calendar year really set us back significantly,” said Mears.

With courts still not operating at full capacity, prosecutors can only go to court on two or three murder cases a week instead of seven or eight.

All the while, the backlog of non-violent crimes also continues to pile up.

“So right now in Marion County we have 37,00 pending cases. That number should be around 25,000, under regular times,” said Mears. “It’s really going to take time to recover and we have to preach patience to everyone in the process.”

Mears also noted that the pandemic has made it hard to get people to show up for jury duty and because COVID related restrictions could be reinstated or change at any time, it’s also hard to plan too far ahead.

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