INDIANAPOLIS — Showing jurors the photo of a child’s body did not unfairly influence a trial in Hancock County last year, an appellate court ruled this week.
The defense team for bus driver Charles Goodman, 55, of Gary, argued the photograph of 6-year-old Jacob Williams “was unduly prejudicial” and that prosecutors abused their power by presenting it during Goodman’s trial last year, according to the court’s ruling. A Hancock County jury found Goodman, who tested positive for cocaine following the accident that killed the boy, guilty of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death and driving with a suspended license.
The appeals court agreed Hancock County prosecutors didn’t need to show the photo to identify the child as the victim or make their case that Goodman was responsible for the boy’s death but determined “the admission of the photograph was at most (a) harmless error,” according to the ruling issued Monday.
The appeals court upheld Goodman’s six-year sentence: three years in prison followed by three years on probation.
Goodman was behind the wheel of a bus carrying passengers from St. Jude Family Deliverance Worship Center from their church in Gary to a youth conference in Ohio in late July 2015.
Near the 107-mile marker on eastbound Interstate 70, the bus suddenly veered off the side of the road, causing it to flip and catch fire.
The 6-year-old boy was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. Goodman, as well as 11 others who were riding on the bus, were injured, police said.
Witnesses said it appeared Goodman had fallen asleep at the wheel; following the accident, a blood test showed he had metabolized cocaine in his system, reports state.
During the trial last June, prosecutors showed jurors a photo of the boy from the crash scene.
Prosecutor Brent Eaton said there was no question during preparation for the trial that photos of the little boy who lost his life would be part of the evidence.
“It goes straight to the heart of the case, of the crime,” he said. “You feel gratified that (the appellate court) saw things our way.”
In the appeals court ruling, judges stated their belief Goodman has not taken responsibility for his role in the accident, “claiming others must have planted the cocaine in food or medicine he previously consumed and blaming the accident on mechanical issues with the bus.”
The bus’ mechanical problems were raised at trial as well, with church members testifying the bus broke down near Whitestown, along Interstate 65, and its battery needed a jump start. Another woman was driving the bus at the time, and Goodman — who did not hold a license to drive the bus — took over for her, witnesses said.
Investigators found no evidence a mechanical issue caused the crash, reports state.
As police investigated the crash, they learned Goodman had a history of driving violations and was wanted on a warrant in Lake County after failing to appear in court for a traffic offense, police said.
Goodman’s appeals attorney, Michael Frischkorn of Fortville, declined to comment on the ruling.