News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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December 11, 2013

Ross found guilty of battery

Acquitted on manslaughter charges

TERRE HAUTE — A Terre Haute man was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter but convicted of battering a man who later died at the Vigo County Jail.

James Madison Ross IV will be sentenced Jan. 10, 2014 in Vigo Superior Court 1 on the class-C felony charge of battery resulting in serious bodily injury for the Jan. 8, 2013 death of William Powell, 48.

The 10-woman, two-man jury deliberated about four hours before returning its verdict Wednesday after hearing the closing arguments in the case. Evidence and witnesses were presented Tuesday in the trial.

“It was a very complex case from a medical standpoint,” said Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt, noting that Powell died several hours after he was in an altercation with Ross.

Trial deputy prosecutor Eric Frey told the jury that Powell’s death was a result of injuries he sustained at an apartment on North Eighth Street. An autopsy showed that Powell died as a result of acute bacterial peritonitis due to a rupture of his small intestine caused by blunt force trauma. Frey told the jury that during a brief fight, Ross knocked Powell to the floor and kicked him in the abdomen, resulting in the fatal injury.

Defense attorney Christopher Shema stated that it was unclear when or how Powell sustained the injury that led to his death. Police were not aware that the fight had occurred until at least three hours later, when an officer was called to the North Eighth Street location and arrested an intoxicated Powell on a warrant.

Powell had obvious injuries on his face, police noted, but he was medically cleared at Terre Haute Regional Hospital before he was booked into the Vigo County Jail. Powell complained of pain in his rib area, and was later found unresponsive in his jail cell.

Modesitt said that he was pleased with the jury’s verdict.

“I think it was a good result,” he said. “Both of the charges were class-C felonies, and we got a C felony conviction on that battery, and that’s the most we could get.”

The sentencing range for a class-C felony is two to eight years in prison with an advisory sentence of four years. Since both of the charges arose from the same incident, state sentencing guidelines combine the penalties for conviction.

Defense attorney Shema told the Tribune-Star that he was not happy with the split verdict by the jury.

“I guess they got hung up on his black eye,” Shema said of Powell’s facial injuries.

Shema requested the Judge John Roach to consider Vigo County Community Corrections as a sentencing option for Ross, and Roach granted an evaluation for that program.

After the jury had entered the deliberation process, Judge Roach also took action related to an incident that occurred during the closing arguments.

Robert Powell, brother of the victim, was ejected from the courtroom by the judge because Powell was seen making gestures that could have influenced or intimidated the jurors. Once he was in the hallway outside the courtroom, Powell returned to the door and made another gesture that was witnessed by the attorneys, judge and jurors.

Roach had Powell arrested for contempt of court and booked into the jail. He was brought back to court after the jury entered deliberations. Powell apologized to the court and said that he was trying to get the attention of his nephew, who was sitting in the courtroom gallery, so they both could leave.

The judge accepted Powell’s apology and ordered him released on the contempt charge but noted that Powell would continue to be held because of a City Court warrant.

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

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