(BLOOMINGTON) – A federal court ruled Monday the man convicted in the murder of 19-year-old IU student Jill Behrman will be released unless the state files for a retrial.
U.S. District Court Judge James R. Sweeney of the Southern District of Indiana ruled Monday that the legal counsel for John Myers II was ineffective.
“The State of Indiana shall vacate all criminal penalties stemming from Mr. Myers’ murder conviction, and release him from custody pursuant to that conviction unless the State of Indiana elects to retry Mr. Myers within 120 days,” the ruling reads.
Myers was convicted of killing Behrman in 2006 and sentenced to serve the maximum sentence 65 years in prison. He is serving that sentence at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.
Behrman disappeared in May 2000 while on a bicycle ride near Bloomington. Hunters found her remains in 2003 in Morgan County, north of Bloomington. She died of a shotgun wound to the back of her head.
In his petition to the court, Myers argued that his counsel was ineffective, that the state presented false evidence and that the state withheld evidence that could have cleared him.
Judge Sweeney ruled ineffective counsel violated Myers’ Sixth Amendment rights.
“After reviewing the record and the parties’ briefs in detail, the Court concludes that Mr. Myers received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights Most notably, 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.”
“Most notably, 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. In the end, these serious errors all but destroyed the defense that trial counsel presented to the jury and tainted the entire trial.”
Patrick Baker was the lead attorney on Myers’ case.
The 147-page ruling conceded – “A new trial will likely come only at considerable cost—to the State, yes, but, more importantly, to the victim’s family and community still wounded by their tragic loss. Such costs do not enter into the constitutional analysis; and yet, the Court cannot help but express its empathy for those who must bear them for the sake of our Constitution and its protections.”
Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega released the following statement about the ruling:
“We have received notice of the Federal Court of Appeals decision granting the Defendant’s Writ of Habeas Corpus. I have been in contact with the victim’s parents, Eric and Marilyn Behrman, as well as the lead investigator, Detective (Ret.) Rick Lang. Needless to say, we are all disappointed with this outcome as believed that after 13 years, the jury’s guilty verdict was final. I have spoken with the Indiana Attorney’s General’s Office and they are just analyzing the opinion and its ramifications. Thus, it is premature to discuss the next step in the case. However, I do plan on meeting with the victims and the investigator before any decision is made.”