News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 10, 2013

Closing arguments today in Ross assault trial

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Testimony began and concluded Tuesday in the trial of a Terre Haute man accused of battering a person who later died at the Vigo County Jail.

The accused man, James Madison Ross IV, 40, did not testify in his own trial. Defense attorney Christopher Shema told Vigo Superior Court 1 Judge John Roach that he felt the prosecution had not proven that Ross injured William Powell, who died Jan. 8 in a cell at the Vigo County Jail.

Closing arguments in the trial are to start this morning, followed by jury deliberation.

Ross was charged with the class-C felonies of involuntary manslaughter and battery resulting in serious bodily injury for the Jan. 8 death of William Powell, 48. An autopsy determined that Powell died as a result of acute bacterial peritonitis due to a rupture of his small intestine caused by blunt force trauma.

Trial deputy Eric Frey told the jury that during a brief fight, Ross knocked Powell to the ground and kicked him in the abdomen, resulting in the fatal injury.

However, Ross’s cousin, Kelly Lund, testified Tuesday that Powell was intoxicated when he walked uninvited into her apartment on North Eighth Street and “mouthed off” to her and Ross. Lund testified that the two men got into a “tussle” in her apartment, and she said that Ross kicked Powell “on the butt” and not in the abdomen as asserted by the prosecution.

Lund said that she was trying to clean up her bathroom, where Powell had urinated on the floor, while the two men struggled in her kitchen. Lund said that Powell was extremely intoxicated and was having difficulty walking and talking. She said that she had known Powell most of her life, and that she and Powell and Ross were friends. She also stated it was correct to characterize Powell as “falling down drunk.”

She said that the incident in her apartment occurred sometime between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Jan. 6, and that she and Ross decided to leave Powell lying on the kitchen floor of the apartment while they went to Ross’ home. Lund said she did not return to her apartment until the next day, and she found that the interior had been “trashed” and that several food items had been thrown through a bathroom window while someone had tried to make a pan of soup on the stove but spilled it onto the floor. A small table in the apartment was also broken.

Officer Brent Heaton testified that he was called to the 1800 block of North Eighth Street just before 11 p.m. on Jan. 6 on an unknown call for help. Heaton said that a person who resided near Lund’s apartment had called about a man who was requesting help, and when Heaton arrived at the scene, he found Powell outside the apartment.

Heaton testified that Powell was intoxicated and hesitant to talk about how he received visible injuries to his face. The officer said he checked out an apartment where loud music was playing, but found no one inside. He did note that the apartment was in disarray and that some soup had been spilled off the stove. It appeared to be consistent with stains on Powell’s clothing, Heaton said, and he deduced that Powell had been in that apartment.

Heaton said he found that Powell was wanted on a warrant, so he arrested the man and took him to the Vigo County Jail. However, the jail staff declined to accept Powell because of his level of intoxication. So, Powell was transported by Heaton to Terre Haute Regional Hospital to be medically cleared.

Heaton said that Powell was seen by hospital staff, who checked his vital signs and asked him about his injuries, but the man did not want to talk about what happened to him. Heaton said he was at the hospital for about 15 minutes before Powell was cleared to be booked into the jail.

Heaton said the hospital staff seemed to be concerned about Powell’s facial injuries, but not about any other injuries.

When questioned by Shema, Heaton said he did remember seeing a broken table in the apartment and concluding that Powell had fallen into the table. Shema pointed out that it was at least three hours from the time of the incident inside the apartment until police were called to check on Powell.

The 12-member jury also heard testimony from Detective Capt. John Moats of the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, who said that his department headed up the investigation into Powell’s death.  

He said that once Powell was booked into the jail, he was held in the drunk tank for several hours before being transferred to a cell. Moats said he reviewed all video from the jail during the time that Powell was there, and did not see any time when Powell could have been in a fight or beaten by anyone in the jail.

Witness Susan Streeter, a registered nurse assigned to the Vigo County Jail, said she was alerted to Powell’s condition when she came to work, and she put him on the list for a “sick call” visit by medical staff. It was about 10 a.m. Jan. 7 when Powell was examined, she said, but there were no physical signs of an abdominal injury, though he complained of rib pain.

Powell was examined again at about 8 p.m. that day, and no bruising was found on his torso, and an examination revealed no cause for his pain. Powell was on the list to be seen by the doctor the next day, she said; however, he died in his cell Jan. 8.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Roland Kohr testified that Powell had a blood-alcohol content of 0.27 percent at the time of the autopsy on Jan. 9. He said that his examination of Powell’s abdominal cavity revealed puss-like fluid and brown fluid leaking from a perforated bowel, causing peritonitis that resulted in the man’s death. He said that in his opinion, blunt force trauma caused the small hole in Powell’s bowel.

The final witness of the day, Detective Troy Davis of the Terre Haute Police Department, testified that investigators believe Powell was injured inside Lund’s apartment. However, he also stated that investigators did not know where Powell had been before going to that apartment.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter@TribStarLisa.