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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, November 09, 2019 1:00 am

Supreme Court lets murder sentence stand

Killer from city was teen at time

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A Fort Wayne killer's 65-year sentence stands after the Indiana Supreme Court late Thursday opted against taking the case.

The panel heard oral arguments in Damian Harris' case Thursday. But later that day, the court issued an order letting the Court of Appeals opinion in the case stand. That opinion upheld the sentence.

The decision was 3-2, with Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Christopher Goff wanting to reconsider the sentence in the case.

Harris, now 35, was convicted of felony murder for the 2000 shooting of Jim Didier during a robbery gone awry.

He had successfully challenged his 65-year-sentence once already, but Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull gave him the same term again in 2005.

His lawyers this week alleged ineffective assistance of counsel because his public defenders did not bring in brain development evidence as a mitigating circumstance in sentencing.

“A plea for mercy based on his very young age is different than giving information that contextualizes his actions that day,” attorney Kristen Phair said. “An adolescent is simply not as culpable as adult counterparts.”

Harris' expected release date now is 2040. He was acquitted of intentional murder but found guilty of felony murder – the killing of someone during the commission of a felony.

Deputy Attorney General Justin Roebel said the case isn't about denying hope or rehabilitation, because Harris could be released by age 47 or earlier if he earns education credits.

Phair framed the robbery plan as shortsighted and noted that the clerk's screams sent Harris fleeing. That is where he ran into Didier and struggled, shooting him.

“He had no intent to kill. We have a traumatized kid who responded inappropriately to a perceived threat,” she said.

Roebel, though, noted that Harris shot Didier twice – once in the front and once in the back.

nkelly@jg.net