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Indiana Supreme Court Rules Trial Court Properly Admitted Evidence of Defendant’s MySpace Page in Murder Trial

Posted in CASE SUMMARIES

Clark v. State, 915 N.E.2d 126 (2009)

Defendant Ian J. Clark was found guilty of murdering a two year old girl left in his care and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.  On appeal, Clark argued that the trial court improperly admitted evidence from his MySpace account in violation of Ind. R. Evid. 404(b).  Taking up the “novel question” of the propriety of admitting such evidence, the Supreme Court of Indiana ruled that the trial court did not err in admitting the evidence, particularly where Clark’s own testimony made his character a “central issue” of his defense.  The verdict and sentence were therefore affirmed.

On May 25th, 2007, the victim’s mother returned home to find her daughter injured and unconscious; she was later declared dead.  Her fiancée, Ian Clark, was arrested and charged with murder.  At trial, Clark testified in his own defense, insisting he had acted recklessly rather than intentionally and was therefore guilty of reckless homicide but not murder.  During his testimony, the prosecution entered into evidence Clark’s own description of himself, taken from his MySpace page:

Society labels me as an outlaw and criminal and sees more and more everyday how many of the people, while growing up, and those who judge me, are dishonest and dishonorable.  Note, in one aspect I’m glad to say I have helped you people in my past who have done something and achieved on the other hand, I’m sad to see so many people who have nowhere.  To those people I say, if I can do it and get away. B … sh…. And with all my obstacles, why the f … can’t you.

On appeal, Clark argued that the entry was inadmissible character evidence admitted in violation of Ind. R. Evid. 404(b) which prevents the admission of evidence intended to demonstrate the defendant’s propensity to commit the crime charged.  The Supreme Court found the rule inapplicable where the evidence was of Clark’s own statements, not of prior criminal acts.

Addressing the question of the evidence’s probative value, the court first identified portions of Clark’s testimony in which he insisted his actions were merely reckless.  The court then ruled that “[o]nce Clark too the stand to testify along these lines, it was proper to permit the prosecution to confront Clark with is own seemingly prideful declarations that rebutted that defense.”

Finding the other issues raised by Clark to be without merit, the court affirmed the conviction of murder and the sentence of life without parole.