Deputy Attorney General Responds To Kincaid Appeal

Courtney Kincaid. (Photo provided)

The State of Indiana has filed a response to Courtney Kincaid’s appeal, who asked for her 30-year prison sentence to be reduced or reheard.

Kincaid, 30, was sentenced Aug. 27 by Whitley Circuit Court Judge Matthew Rentschler after a jury found Kincaid guilty in July of aggravated battery, a Level 1 felony; neglect of a dependant resulting in death, a Level 1 felony; and battery resulting in death to a person less than 14 years old, a Level 2 felony.

Kincaid was convicted of the crimes July 31.  Rentschler sentenced her to 30 years in the Indiana Department of Corrections for aggravated battery, the Level 1 felony; and 30 years in the IDOC for neglect of a dependant resulting in death, the Level 1 felony. Those sentences will run concurrently – meaning at the same time. Count III, battery resulting in death, a Level 2 felony, was dismissed because Rentschler said it violated Indiana’s double jeopardy law, where a person cannot be convicted of the same crime twice.

Kincaid was the babysitter of Emma Grace Leeman, an 11-month-old Pierceton girl who died after receiving blunt force head trauma in Kincaid’s home.

On April 12, 2018, Emma Grace suffered head trauma that caused extreme swelling on the brain. Surgery was required to alleviate that pressure, but Emma Grace did not survive. Fort Wayne Regional Medical Center Radiologist Dr. John Reed said “he considered the injuries caused to be more associated with a motor vehicle crash.”

Kincaid was the only adult present in the home at the time of the injuries. She has told investigators more than five stories of what happened to Emma Grace – none of which prosecutors nor Emma Grace’s family believe.

A five-day jury trial in Whitley Circuit Court – two years after Emma Grace’s death – featured testimony from doctors, experts, pathologists and an Indiana State Police detective who administered a lie detector exam on Kincaid, which she failed.

Kincaid’s attorneys – Zach and Brad Baber of Columbia City – painted their client to be a person of good character and as someone who simply spoke to the police without an attorney because she was trying to be helpful. The Babers have asserted throughout all court proceedings that Kincaid was tricked by detectives who used an interrogation technique that coerces false confessions.

The 12-person jury didn’t buy it, and Whitley County Prosecutor D.J. Sigler accused Kincaid of doing what he says she’s always done – looking out for her own hide.

“There is no character letter than can be written, there is no reputation good enough,” Sigler told the judge at her sentencing in August. “This was a devastating impact, not only on the skull of Emma Grace Leeman, but the ripple effects through everyone’s lives. When we go away from here, and Mrs. Kincaid has served her sentence … and she’s paid for the crime, she will walk free, somewhere. Emma Grace Leeman never will.”

Sigler asked the judge to sentence Kincaid to 30 years each for Counts I and II and to have them run consecutively, which would have put her behind bars for 60 years.

Zach Baber asked the judge to sentence his client to home detention so Kincaid could raise her three children, all under the age of 7.

In January, Kincaid hired well-known appeals attorney Cara Schaefer Wieneke and filed an appeal requesting the Indiana Court of Appeals reverse her convictions and remand the case for a new trial. If that won’t be awarded, her lawyer asks the court to reduce Kincaid’s sentence to the minimum of 20 years or a revision of her current sentence to allow for a substantial portion of her time to be served on home detention.

In the appeal, Wieneke argues the court committed fundamental error when it denied Kincaid’s defense team the opportunity to present expert testimony from Alan Hirsch, a professor at Williams College in Massachusetts who writes scholarly opinions about false confessions and interrogation tactics used by law enforcement. Hirsch, at trial, spoke about the Reid Technique, a controversial techniques used by detectives that can result in false confessions. Wieneke argues that Hirsch ultimately concluded that, “in his expert opinion, the interrogations of Ms. Kincaid featured an aggressive application of the interrogation tactics known to contribute to false confessions.”

Wieneke writes that the trial court denied Kincaid the opportunity to present his full testimony and called the error “particularly egregious because the State was permitted to present testimony that the techniques used by the detectives in this case were not aggressive or relentless. The weight to be given to Courtney’s confession was really the only issued to be decided by the jury; the elements of the offenses otherwise were not in dispute. As Courtney testified, ‘I had to admit that I did lie during the investigation and I do have to own up to those stories. But I believe that it’s my words that have led me here today. I’m not here for my actions, I’m here because of my words.’”

Another argument made by Wieneke in the appeal is that Kincaid’s 30-year executed sentence was inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and her character.

“Regarding the nature of the offenses, Courtney does not dispute that the nature of her offenses, when the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the jury’s verdicts, was disturbing,” Wieneke writes. “The jury’s verdicts reveal that they believed Courtney intentionally caused (Emma Grace’s) skull fracture and that Courtney’s actions after the injury seriously endangered (Emma Grace’s) life, ultimately leading to (Emma Grace’s) death. There was no evidence to suggest that Courtney intended to kill her. In her final confession, Courtney expressed feeling overwhelmed by the children in her care and, in a split second, lost control and reacted to (Emma Grace’s) needs in frustration.”

Wieneke argues that Kincaid’s character should be considered, including that nearly 50 people wrote letters on her behalf to the court during her sentencing and described her as “kind, caring, compassionate” among  other nice things. Wieneke also reminds the appeals court that her client has had no prior criminal history and thus the 30-year sentence is too high.

On Wednesday, Indiana Deputy Attorney General Sierra A. Murray filed a response to the appeal and said the trial court did not make an error when limiting Hirsch’s testimony on interrogation techniques.

“The excluded testimony would have invaded the province of the jury because it was the jury’s job to determine whether the police officers used the Reid Technique and whether Kincaid’s confession was false,” Murray argued. “If permitted to testify to the particular interrogations of Kincaid, the jury would have interpreted Professor Hirsch’s testimony as an opinion that the use of the Reid Technique caused Kincaid to falsely confess — an inference forbidden by Rule 704.”

When it comes to the issue of Kincaid arguing her 30-year prison sentence in inappropriate because she’s a “good person,” Murray argues that not only was Kincaid’s sentence not inappropriate, but she actually received less than the advisory sentence.

The sentencing range for a Level 1 felony is between 20 and 40 years, with a 30-year advisory sentence. Aggravated battery is a crime of violence, which allows a court to impose Kincaid’s sentences consecutively. Rentschler sentenced her to the 30 year advisory, but had the sentences run concurrently.

“Thus the advisory sentence for Kincaid’s crime is 60 years. Kincaid received concurrent 30-year sentenced, far less than the advisory. This sentence is not inappropriate,” Murray writes.

When it comes to Kincaid’s “good character” argument, Murray argues: “The details of the offenses are egregious. Kincaid caused the painful death of an 11-month-old baby entrusted to her care. She intentionally physically abused (Emma Grace Leeman), causing a large skull fracture, a brain bleed and retinal and perineurial hemorrhages. Then Kincaid waited hours before seeking medical attention, leaving (Emma Grace Leeman) to suffer. After (Emma Grace Leeman) died, Kincaid did not admit to her wrongdoing, but repeatedly lied to the police and concocted story after story in an attempt to explain the baby’s injuries and avoid the consequences of her actions. … Kincaid’s character is insufficient, particularly on its own, to overcome the ‘particularly heavy’ burden of showing that a less-than-advisory sentence is inappropriate. … Kincaid revealed her character when she abused a baby, delayed seeking medical attention and lied about her actions for nine months. Kincaid’s actions speak to her character much more than any description offered by friends or family, particularly when those actions contradict the descriptions given. … And though Kincaid lacks a criminal history outside of the present offenses, leading a law-abiding life is an expectation of every member of society and is not ‘compelling’ evidence meriting a sentencing revision.”

Murray asked the Court of Appeals to uphold Kincaid’s convictions and sentence.

Kincaid is serving her sentence at the Rockville Correctional Facility with a projected release date of Jan. 28, 2043.