A team of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood attorneys has successfully overturned a murder conviction for a death row inmate tied to a string of serial killings in northern Indiana in 1990.
Alan Sharp, a federal judge for the Northern District in Indiana, ruled that the rights of Obadayah Ben-Yisrayl, an Indiana man convicted of murder, were violated when prosecutors questioned his decision not to take the stand in his own defense. Mr. Ben-Yisray’s is now entitled to a new trial within 120 days or release. The crimes drew national media attention because they were tied to a series of random murders and robberies, including several along Interstate 65. Mr. Ben-Yisrayl, whose original name was Christopher Peterson, became known as “The Shotgun Killer.”
“We are pleased that Mr. Ben-Yisrayl will now have an opportunity to receive a fair trial in Porter County,” said John Gallo, the Sidley partner in Chicago who led the pro bono defense team, along with Sidley attorneys Kelly Cox and Alexa Warner. This was a case that started with a coerced confession and ended with a rush to judgment, in large part because there was a serial killer on the loose, murdering at random, and Indiana law enforcement needed a conviction in a hurry to put the public at ease.”
Mr. Ben-Yisrayl remains imprisoned in Indiana on a separate conviction stemming from the Lake County, Indiana murders. Judge Sharp’s decision overturned the defendant’s Porter County conviction.
“We took on these cases because we believe an innocent man has sat on death row for 11 years,” said Mr. Gallo.
Another component in Judge Sharp’s decision was that during the convicting trial, the court reporter had emotional problems that led to a nervous breakdown, leaving the appellate courts with seriously jumbled trial transcripts.
“A carefully prepared, competent transcript – with integrity – is a confluence of events,” wrote Judge Sharp in the decision. “It starts in the live process with the reporter’s sensory skills: the ability to hear, see and concentrate. It continues with accurate notes and finishes with the interpreted transcription of those notes to produce a written record of the spoken word. All of these steps are in doubt in this case.”
Mr. Ben-Yisrayl’s Lake County conviction, which was upheld earlier this year, is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit.