Judge orders release of man convicted in IU student’s death
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A man convicted in the 2000 killing of an Indiana University student has been ordered released from prison by a federal judge who ruled the man’s trial attorney was so ineffective that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated.
U.S. District Court Judge James Sweeney in Indianapolis vacated John Myers II’s murder conviction late Monday. Myers was found guilty in 2006 of killing Jill Behrman and later sentenced to 65 years in prison.
“Mr. Myers’s counsel made false statements to the jury during opening arguments, which counsel admitted to the Indiana Supreme Court in a subsequent attorney disciplinary proceeding. He also failed to object to two significant categories of evidence that should not have been presented to the jury,” Sweeney wrote in his ruling.
“In the end, these serious errors all but destroyed the defense that trial counsel presented to the jury and tainted the entire trial,” the judge added.
Sweeney ordered that Myers be released from state prison within 120 days, unless prosecutors opt to retry him. Before Monday’s ruling, he was not eligible for release until June 2037.
Myers had previously challenged his conviction in state courts but it was affirmed both by the Indiana Court of Appeals and the Indiana Supreme Court.
Behrman, an IU sophomore, was 19 when she disappeared in May 2000 while on a bicycle ride near Bloomington. Her fate was a mystery until hunters found her remains in 2003 in Morgan County, north of Bloomington. She died of a shotgun wound to the back of her head.
Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega, who tried the case, told The (Bloomington) Herald-Times that he’s disappointed in the ruling and will confer with Behrman’s family and Indiana’s attorney general before deciding whether to pursue a new trial.
Behrman’s mother, Marilyn Behrman, said she will work with Sonnega’s office to determine the best decision for her and her family.
“I am disappointed with this ruling, but this is out of my control,” she told WRTV-TV . “I will count on Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega to help guide me through this process, whether that be an appeal leading to a new trial or not. I am more concerned with the emotional toll this will take on family and friends.”