Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Local News

April 10, 2014

Appeals court throws out murder conviction

Torray Stitts likely to be retried for 2002 killing

Torray Stitts, convicted in 2002 of a Kokomo murder, will get a new trial after a federal court threw out his conviction last week.

The U.S. Southern District Court of Indiana ruled Stitts, 33, received ineffective assistance from his attorney during his trial nearly 12 years ago and ordered Stitts released from prison if Howard County officials don’t try him again within 120 days.

Wednesday, Howard County Prosecutor Mark McCann said he’s reviewing the case.

“As it stands right now, I intend to bring Mr. Stitts to trial within 120 days, pursuant to the judge’s order,” McCann said.

A Howard County jury deliberated 11 hours before finding Stitts guilty of shooting Kevin Hartson to death Jan. 22, 2002.

The county prosecutor at the time, Jim Fleming, used the testimony of two witnesses to make the case against Stitts, but Stitts’ attorney in the case never offered any alibi testimony to rebut those witnesses.

Stitts has always maintained his innocence in the case, but was unsuccessful in an appeal of the conviction, and in an appeal for post-conviction relief.

After his state appeals ran out in 2009, Stitts turned to the federal courts in a bid for a new trial.

The district court in Indianapolis turned down his initial petition, but Stitts’ subsequent appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago met with success last July.

“We were obviously thrilled. To get a writ from the [appeals court] bench, that never happens,” Stitts’ attorney, Michael Ausbrook, Bloomington, said Wednesday. “It’s a very unusual occurrence.”

Re-trying the case could pose difficulties for the state.

The state’s main witness, who claimed to have seen Stitts shoot Hartson, is now dead, killed in a Chicago shooting several years ago, according to Ausbrook.

The defense could also seek to introduce an alibi defense, something Stitts has long claimed could have swayed the jury towards acquittal.

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