The Herald Bulletin

February 19, 2014

Jurors to visit prison crime scene

By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — The jury in a murder trial will be heading to the Pendleton Correctional Facility on Friday to give them a better idea of the physics of the crime.

Madison Circuit 3 Judge Thomas Newman ruled in favor of state prosecutors by allowing the special trip during a mid-trial hearing on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the trial wrapped up Day 2 deliberations. Clay Howard, a 31-year-old inmate at the PCF, faces a charge of murder in the slaying of fellow inmate Kent McDonald in 2007.

The case could determine whether Howard, a former Tippecanoe County resident, will ever be released from prison. He's currently serving charges of attempted murder and robbery from a 2003 case and has a projected release date of 2021.

According to the probable cause affidavit of the case, on April 6, 2007, McDonald was found beaten to death and covered with a blanket in his cell. There was also evidence McDonald was strangled. McDonald's cellmates, Howard and Paul Rayle, were immediately tagged as lead suspects in the case. Evidence connected the two to the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, which has taken a pledge to kill child molesters. McDonald was serving a prison sentence for a 2005 child molest conviction. Rayle is a co-defendant in the case, and his trial is scheduled for next month.

Deputy prosecutor Jeff Lockwood, who is trying the case, said the case file sat in limbo in the previous prosecutor's administration for unknown reasons and wasn't opened until late 2010. Since then, depositions, investigations and scheduling conflicts have delayed bringing the case to trial.

The first two days of the trial, which started Tuesday, have been dedicated to establishing the environment and evidence of the crime, and several prison guards and detectives have testified.

On Wednesday, Lockwood made the unusual request to allow the jurors to be taken to the PCF to see the scene of the crime. He argued that the unusual nature of the case calls for the rare request, and that the jury needs to have an idea of the confined spaces involved with the cell where McDonald was killed. Defense attorney Christopher Cage argued that the visit was unnecessary and the experience could potentially contaminate the jury. Newman ruled in favor of Lockwood.

"He might have denied the request had the Department of Correction not been so accommodating to us," Lockwood said.

The jury is scheduled to take the trip on Friday morning, so the trial is expected to last at least that long.

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