Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Dillard appeals murder conviction

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By LILY REX

Christopher Dillard, 53, is appealing his Nov. 6, 2019 conviction where a jury found him guilty of the murder of Nicole Gland.

In a brief filed July 22, Dillard’s new attorney Janette F. Surrisi, of Plymouth, argues on Dillard’s behalf that his conviction should be reversed because he did not receive a fair trial due to “inflammatory” media coverage, both of the initial case, and of his confession to Chesterton Police that was deemed inadmissible at trial, and alleged discrepancies in the evidence presented.

A fair trial was not possible in part because Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clymer on three occasions made rulings that represent violations of Dillard’s constitutional rights, Surrisi argues. The three occasions Surrisi cites are: Clymer’s multiple pretrial rulings not to grant a change of venue for the trial, his pretrial ruling declining to dismiss the case against Dillard, and his allowing a corrections officer to testify to the jury that Dillard said “I have no problem killing”, while Dillard was incarcerated at the Porter County Jail.

Surrisi renews arguments that Dillard’s three prior defense attorneys used in appeals to Clymer about pretrial publicity potentially tainting the jury pool in Porter County and about potentially exculpatory evidence being mishandled by the Chesterton Police Department.

Surrisi, however, also argues that three of the jurors selected for Dillard’s trial had prior knowledge of the case from news coverage, and ongoing publicity of the trial while it progressed contributed to the case “tak[ing] hold of the popular imagination of Porter County’s residents” and curating a “deep-seated hostility toward Mr. Dillard” in the Porter County community that likely influenced the jurors.

Surrisi also argues that Clymer misruled when he declined to dismiss the case over a dispute about a knife that was found near the crime scene several months after the fact. Conflicting witness statements described the knife as serrated and non-serrated, and one witness said a Chesterton Police Detective collected the knife as evidence. Detective Nick Brown, however, said he did not collect the knife because it appeared to have fallen from the deck of a restaurant and was not the type of knife police suspected was used in the murder.

Clymer ruled that the knife was potentially useful evidence, but the defense did not meet its burden to prove that Det. Brown acted in “bad faith” when he didn’t collect it. Surrisi argues Clymer should not have let questions of witness credibility cloud the facts that (1) all witnesses say a knife was found and (2) that same knife was never made available as evidence.

Finally, Surrisi argues the corrections officer’s testimony that Dillard made a general statement about killing was merely prejudicial and not relevant to a specific case.

Dillard was sentenced to 65 years, the maximum for murder in Indiana, on Jan. 2, 2020 for the murder of 23-year-old Gland, of Portage, who was killed behind the former Upper Deck Lounge in downtown Chesterton in the early hours of April 19, 2017 after her bartending shift ended. Her body was found in her SUV behind the bar later that morning. An autopsy revealed she had been stabbed more than 20 times and sustained a single post-mortem blunt force blow to the head. Dillard, a then-bouncer at the bar, was convicted of the murder after a jury deliberated for approximately 10 hours on Nov. 6, 2019.

The jury did not hear Dillard’s taped confession obtained by the Chesterton Police Department just days after the murder because the confession was thrown out when an Indiana Appeals Court ruled that Chesterton Police Chief David Cincoski ignored Dillard’s three requests for counsel during interrogation.

In that confession, Dillard had made statements including, “I destroyed my life”, “It was the drugs,” and “I killed that girl.”

Surrisi seeks the reversal of Dillard’s conviction or at least a reduction of his sentence from 65 to 60 years. Surrisi writes, given Dillard’s age and condition, “statistically, even with this adjustment, Mr. Dillard is likely to live out the remainder of his days in incarceration”, but she argues that the sentence of 65 years was handed down with unfair consideration of aggravating factors, and “the constitution demands an adjustment of his sentence to one based solely on legally permissible considerations.”

 

Posted 8/3/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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