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Justices send murder appeal back to state

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of Troy Shaw, a magazine salesman convicted of murder in the 2000 beating death of another man outside a Fort Wayne hotel.

That means a ruling last summer by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stands, and Shaw gets a new appeal before the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The ruling at the 7th Circuit basically forces the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to require the Indiana Court of Appeals to give Shaw’s case another look.

After Shaw’s appeal of his conviction stalled out at the state appellate level, he sought a writ of habeas corpus – or a federal review of his case – in the federal court in Indianapolis. When it denied his request, Shaw appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, and it sided with him.

Judges at the 7th Circuit found that Shaw’s public defender, Gregory Miller, fell below the minimal constitutional requirement for legal effectiveness because he failed to raise the issue of whether it was proper for prosecutors to charge Shaw with murder when they did, a full six months after he was charged with aggravated battery.

When Miller handled Shaw’s appeal, he did argue that there was not sufficient evidence to support a murder conviction. But such an argument is “dead on arrival,” according to the federal appeals court.

In a ruling handed down last September, the 7th Circuit ordered the case to be reconsidered by the federal court in Indianapolis, which promptly granted his request for a new appeal at the Indiana Court of Appeals.

After the state’s loss at the federal appeals court, the office of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller sought a review of the 7th Circuit’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Monday, the Supreme Court denied the request to review the case.

That decision, for all intents and purposes, puts it back in the state appeals court, where the case has been on hold awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision.

But Shaw has remained in the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, with the earliest possible release date on Oct. 12, 2031.

In June 2000, the 33-year-old King was found dead outside the Valu Lodge motel, 3527 Coliseum Blvd. W., his head submerged in water in a rain-swollen ditch.

Shaw, from Findlay, Ohio, was one of a group of traveling magazine salesmen who were staying at the motel that night. When they arrived at the motel after a trip to Cedar Point, King was found inside one of the rooms, lying on a bed. Someone confronted King and chased him outside, where he was beaten to death.

Five men were charged in connection with King’s death – Shaw; Benjamin Brooks of Tennessee; John Eric Werczynski of Virginia; Steven Johnson of West Virginia; and Kristopher D. Starling of Tennessee.

They were charged with crimes including aiding in a battery, involuntary manslaughter and murder.

Prosecutors initially charged Shaw with aggravated battery, but in December 2001, citing new evidence, they upped the charge to murder. Allen Superior Court Magistrate Robert Schmoll allowed the change in the charge over the objections of Shaw’s trial attorney, Nikos Nakos. Schmoll did grant a delay in the case, postponing the trial until February 2002.

Shaw maintained his innocence throughout the court case. But witnesses told the jury they saw Shaw kick King’s head “like a football.”

Ultimately convicted, Shaw was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the crime. According to court records, the charge of aggravated battery was later dismissed.

In December 2002, Miller filed an appeal on behalf of Shaw, arguing that the state did not have enough evidence to support the murder charge. The appellate court rejected that argument and upheld Shaw’s conviction in June 2003.

Shaw unsuccessfully sought to have Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck review his case in 2004 and change the outcome; four years later, that request was denied.

Shaw appealed that decision as well.

The state now must comply with the federal appeals court ruling, with any avenue other than a new state-level appeal effectively cut off.

A spokesman for the Indiana Attorney General’s office said it will proceed in both the Indiana Court of Appeals and the federal district court, with the objective of bringing the case to a conclusion.