News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 10, 2014

Six-year sentence for inmate’s death

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A Terre Haute Man acquitted of involuntary manslaughter received a six-year sentence Friday for his conviction on battery resulting in serious bodily injury.

James Madison Ross IV was ordered by Vigo Superior Court 1 Judge John Roach to serve four years in the Department of Correction, with two years suspended to probation. However, Roach ordered that Ross be transferred to Vigo County Community Corrections to serve the remainder of his sentence. He receives two years of credit for the 367 days already served in the county jail since his arrest.

Ross was convicted by a jury for the Jan. 8, 2013 death of William Powell, 48, who died in the Vigo County Jail about two days after he was in a physical altercation with Ross.

During the sentencing hearing, defense attorney Christopher Shema revisited his request for a directed verdict, saying that not enough evidence was presented by the prosecution to show that Powell’s fatal injuries were caused by his altercation with Ross. Testimony was presented, along with a statement from Powell himself, to indicate that his injuries were the result of a fall.

An autopsy showed that Powell died of peritonitis from a perforated bowel, caused by blunt force trauma to the abdomen. His death was ruled a homicide.

Judge Roach rejected that defense request, noting that an appeal would determine if enough evidence was presented to sustain the verdict.

 Ross did indicate he will appeal the verdict, and Roach appointed the state public defender’s office to assign legal counsel for the appeal by Ross.

Deputy Prosecutor Carroll Smeltzer asked the judge to consider the maximum eight-year prison sentence for the class-C felony conviction, considering that Ross had prior misdemeanor convictions that involved physical violence, such as domestic battery.

Roach said he was concerned that Ross’ criminal history included four arrests that involved some form of battery, and he cited that as an aggravator in this case to warrant more than the presumptive sentence of four years for the C felony conviction.

The judge also heard a victim impact statement from Powell’s mother, who addressed Ross to tell him that her son’s death took away a person who many people counted on. But she gave Powell forgiveness for her son’s death. She noted that the two men had known each other for several years.

“I’m a Christian, and I forgive you,” she said.

Roach told her that he often does not hear such statements from a victim’s family, and he commended her for that.

“I don’t think this man had any intention of killing your son,” Roach added.

Roach ordered Ross transferred into the work release program as soon as the program fees are paid. He also noted that Ross has 30 days to file a notice of appeal of the jury verdict.

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