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Issue of October 22, 2014
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Prosecutor plans to seek death penalty


2 accused in double murder reject plea agreement offer


January 08, 2014 | 10:28 AM

Two men accused of murdering a Byrneville couple last October and faced with the option of making a plea agreement for life in prison without parole or possibly face the death penalty made their decision Friday in Harrison Superior Court.

Kevin (Drew) Schuler and Austin Scott, both 18, are accused of murdering Gary Henderson and Aseneth (Senie) Arnold in the couple's home during a robbery in which they allegedly stole medication, money, guns and other items.

In separate hearings and under the advisement of their attorneys, both teens chose to not take the plea agreement offer.

During a 10-minute hearing, Scott's court-appointed attorney, Christopher Sturgeon of Jeffersonville, said it would be premature to recommend his client to take the plea agreement offer, adding that he didn't know if the agreement would be appropriate.

Upon hearing that Scott did not take the offer, Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk told Superior Judge Roger D. Davis that he plans to file for the death penalty.

Davis vacated the jury trial scheduled for March 31 and set a date for a status conference and any pending motions for April 25.

As Scott was led by corrections officers from the courtroom, and has been done during past hearings, one of his family members shouted, "I love you, Austin."

"We think there are many possible outcomes to this case," Sturgeon said, with co-counsel Amie Newlon at his side. "The death penalty, life without parole, those have a certain emotional appeal, obviously, but they are not the only possible outcome."

Nine minutes later, co-defendant Schuler was led in, with a similar presentation from his attorney, Eric J. Weitzel of New Albany, who said Schuler was not taking the plea agreement offer.

"The State revokes its offer. The State plans to file for the death penalty in the very near future," Schalk said.

Davis set a status hearing for Schuler on the same date of April 25.

Schuler was walked out of the courtroom, but not before he waved goodbye to his grandmother, who was among about 40 people in the courtroom for the proceedings.

"We know there's going to be a lot of work going forward. We know it's not a quick process. What we ask for is patience and understanding as we go forward with this," Schalk said. "This is not a shoplifting case. This is a double-murder, death-penalty case now."

According to former Harrison-Crawford County Circuit Court Prosecutor Lloyd (Tad) Whitis, who held the position at the time, the last death-penalty trial was in 1981, involving a man, Jay R. Thompson, who stabbed to death an elderly couple in Petersburg. In 1980, former business partners Don LaBine and John Schultz, both of Louisville, were also tried in a death-penalty case. The two men killed a homeless man in Louisville and burned his body in Harrison County in an attempt to get insurance money by making it appear as though Schultz had been the person burned to death. In 1979, Tyreese Rowan was also tried in a death-penalty case here in which he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, criminal deviate conduct and burglary in the death of Evelyn Ayer, 72.

Historically, the average cost of a death-penalty case to a county in Indiana is substantially higher than a case in which defendants face life in prison without the possibility of parole. According to a 2010 report from the Legislative Services Agency in Indianapolis, of the three possible sentencing options for murder (death, life without parole, determinate sentencing of between 45 and 65 years), the death penalty is generally the most expensive for trial courts to conduct because two attorneys are required to represent the accused.

The average capital case resulting in a death sentence cost $449,887, while the average cost of case in which a life-without-parole sentence was sought and achieved was only $42,658. Since Scott and Schuler will be tried separately, the cost to Harrison County taxpayers could approach or surpass $1 million.

The study was prepared by the Legislative Services Agency for the General Assembly in January 2010, as a cost assessment for a bill that would make more cases eligible for the death penalty. Total cost of Indiana's death penalty is 38 percent greater than the total cost of life-without-parole sentences.

The last time a person was executed in Indiana was Dec. 11, 2009. Since Indiana's reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977, 20 people have been executed (three by electric chair and 17 by lethal injection.) Currently, there are 12 men and one woman on Indiana's Death Row.

Twitter: @_alanstewart

  1. print email
    Good
    January 09, 2014 | 11:04 AM

    Good for the prosecutor ...

  2. print email
    You have my support, Mr. Schalk.
    January 09, 2014 | 08:36 PM

    Thanks for all the hard work you've done and no doubt will have to do.

    Scott
  3. print email
    January 10, 2014 | 03:38 PM

    Ron Simpson filed death penalty charges in the Kelly Holland case. Please get your facts straight.

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