Convicted teen's request denied by appeals court

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled against a Putnam County teenager who is seeking to have his 40-year prison sentence for attempted murder thrown out.

Zacharia N. Truax, now 19, was waived to adult court as a 17-year-old and subsequently tried and convicted in March of 2005 on four of six counts of attempted murder against four police officers.

The officers from the Putnam County Sheriff's Department, Greencastle Police and Indiana State Police were responding to a fight between Truax and his mother Deidre Truax at the family's home on Ind. 240 east of Greencastle in November of 2004.

The officers testified, during Truax's three-day trial conducted in then-Putnam Circuit Court Judge Diana LaViolette's courtroom, that the teen fired at them numerous times during the nine-hour standoff which ended with a peaceful surrender.

In a published opinion dated Nov. 6, Judge John G. Baker with the Indiana Court of Appeals denied Truax and his attorney James Recker's request to have the convictions overturned.

Recker, according to court documents, claimed the court did not have the proper jurisdiction to hear the case; that Truax was denied his right to a speedy trial; that Truax was not properly notified of the charges against him; that certain evidence submitted by the prosecution during the trial was not admissible by law; and that the court failed to consider Truax's lack of a criminal record and his young age in determining his sentence.

Judge Baker outlined each of Recker's five arguments in his published opinion which was distributed to the media this week. In those documents, the judge cited Indiana Code and denied all of the claims based, in part, on a lack of evidence and a failure on the defendant's side to file certain motions, during the trial, in a timely manner.

However, on the charge that the court failed to weigh Truax's lack of a criminal history and his age in determining his sentence, Judge Baker agreed with Recker in that "the court erred by not considering Truax's young age to be a mitigating factor at sentencing."

Baker, however, found "that any error by the trial court in not considering Truax's youth as a mitigating factor was harmless because the trial court could have found Truax's multiple victims to be a valid aggravating factor."

Mitigating circumstances can decrease one's sentence, while aggravating circumstances can add to one's sentence.

Truax's three-day trial last March included a tearful testimony from his mother Deidre Truax, as well as testimony from the four police officers who he was convicted of trying to kill: then-Greencastle Police Officer Sam Sellers, Putnam County Sheriff's Deputy Ed Wilson, Reserve Sheriff's Deputy Alan Bullington and Indiana State Police Trooper Dave Cox.

After a nearly two-day presentation from the prosecution and a 15-minute defense, a jury found Truax guilty on four counts of attempted murder. He was found not guilty of trying to kill Putnam County Sheriff Mark Frisbie and Reserve Deputy Rick Cooper.

According to the Indiana Department of Correction website's offender database search, Truax is currently being housed at the Wabash Valley Level 4 Facility in Terre Haute.

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