HANCOCK COUNTY — Homicide investigations top the court dockets for 2017, and local prosecutors say they are gearing up to take two of the cases to trial in the New Year.
Three Hancock County residents were killed by acquaintances in 2016, police say, leading investigators to arrest four men on murder charges, according to court records.
Two defendants have in recent weeks pleaded guilty to lesser charges; the state expects the remaining two to go to trial in the coming months, Prosecutor Brent Eaton said.
Indiana v. Damian Coleman
Early in the New Year, Eaton expects to present evidence against Damian Coleman, an Indianapolis man accused of playing a part in the death of 55-year-old Shannon Kitchens of McCordsville, who was found shot dead last spring.
Kitchens’ body was dumped along a rural road a few miles from his home. Police believe Coleman conspired with another man, Shawn Hammons of Pendleton, to rob Kitchens during a drug deal, and Kitchens was shot in the process, according to court records.
Coleman faces a murder charge among other allegations. Eaton said the trial, which is scheduled to begin on Jan. 24 in Hancock Circuit Court, could roll into a second week as the state’s witness list against Coleman encompasses some 20 names.
Kitchens’ family members, police and other law enforcement officials who investigated the death are expected to take the stand, but Coleman’s co-defendant, Hammons, will likely be the most influential voice, Eaton said.
Hammons was with Kitchens when he died, investigators say; and the prosecutors need him to tell jurors exactly what happened on the afternoon Kitchens was shot, Eaton has said.
Hammons took a plea deal in which he has agreed to testify against Coleman in exchange of the murder charge he had faced being dropped. His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 14.
Eaton and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Marie Castetter will present that case to the jury with assistance from Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner. Both Castetter and Keiffner gained experience working high-level felony cases as prosecutors in Marion County before coming to Greenfield.
Indiana v. Spencer Spielman
Once Coleman’s and Hammons’ cases have come to a conclusion, prosecutors will shift their focus to Spencer Spielman, a 20-year-old man accused of strangling and killing Greenfield native Patricia Dresser, according to court records.
After 55-year-old Dresser was found dead in October in her home in one Greenfield’s most affluent neighborhoods, police immediately looked to Spielman, whom the woman had recently hired to do odd jobs around the house.
Police say Spielman admitted to killing Dresser; and although police and prosecutors have so far declined to release details surrounding Dresser’s death, records show search warrants for seven cellphones, a computer and Spielman’s Facebook account have been filed.
Spielman’s case was set to go to trial in early January, but Eaton expects the trial will be postponed. The defendant has asked the court to assign a new trial date later in the year; that request is pending, records show.
Keiffner is expected to take the lead in presenting the case to a jury, Eaton said.
Indiana v. Joseph Baker
Between the two homicide trials, prosecutors will argue that a Greenwood native should serve nearly two decades in prison for killing a local man last year.
Joseph Baker, 28, admitted to running over his romantic rival, 23-year-old Duane Begley of New Palestine, with a car; he pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this month.
Baker agreed to plead guilty to a Level 2 felony count of voluntary manslaughter in exchange for prosecutors dropping the murder charge he faced. The plea deal is pending with the court until Baker’s Feb. 7 sentencing hearing, during which prosecutors will have to make their case for why Baker should serve the majority of his sentence in prison, Eaton said.
Prosecutors have agreed to ask for no more than 18 years and no less than 10 years in prison for Baker, according to court records.
Here’s a look at the county’s most notable cases expected to conclude in 2017:
Case: The State of Indiana v. Damian Coleman; State of Indiana v. Shawn Hammons
Damian Coleman, 40, of Indianapolis, is charged with murder amid allegations he conspired with another man to rob and kill 55-year-old Shannon Kitchens of McCordsville, according to court documents.
Text messages led police to arrest Coleman and Shawn Hammons, 40, of Pendleton. Investigators say the two arranged a drug deal and plotted to rob Kitchens of a $14,000 check he’d recently cashed, according to court documents.
Coleman faces two counts of murder; a Level 3 felony count of attempt to commit robbery while armed; a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in bodily injury; a Level 3 felony count of attempt to deal cocaine; and a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to deal cocaine.
Coleman’s trial is scheduled to begin in Hancock Circuit Court on Jan. 24.
Hammons earlier this month accepted a plea agreement from the prosecutor in which he agreed to testify against Coleman at trial, officials said.
Hammons returns to court for sentencing on Feb. 14. He has pleaded guilty to a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to commit dealing cocaine; a Level 6 felony count of altering the scene of a death; and a Class A misdemeanor count of failure to report a dead body.
Case: The State of Indiana v. Spencer Spielman
After friends found 52-year-old Patricia Dresser dead inside her Greenfield home, police began investigating the man she’d accused of breaking into her home the day before: Spencer Spielman.
Dresser had paid Spielman to do odd jobs and had given him the code to enter through her garage door, police said. She told friends she believed he ransacked her home on evening in October, though she never called police to report the incident, records show.
Spielman admitted to strangling Dresser, investigators said. He faces one count of murder, one Level 5 felony count of robbery and one Class A misdemeanor of driving while suspended, according to court documents.
Case: The State of Indiana v. Joseph Baker
Joseph Baker, 28, of Greenwood, accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors in which he agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of 23-year-old Duane Begley of New Palestine in exchange for prosecutors dropping the murder charge he faced, officials said.
Baker was arrested in April after police said he intentionally ran over Begley, his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, according to court records.
The plea agreement calls for Baker to serve a 30-year sentence. Prosecutors have agreed to ask for no more than 18 years and no less than 10 years in prison for Baker, with the remaining time to be served on probation, according to court records.
Baker returns to court for sentencing on Feb. 7.