Executed June 12, 2003 by Lethal Injection in Indiana
W / M / 31 - 46
38th murderer executed in U.S. in 2003
858th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
2nd murderer executed in Indiana in 2003
11th murderer executed in Indiana since 1976
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Joseph L. Trueblood
W / F / 23
W / F / 2
W / M / 17 mo
Trueblood was upset with his former girlfriend, Susan Bowsher, because she expressed her intention of going back with her ex-husband. Trueblood picked up Susan and her two small children one day and while they were in the car he shot Susan 3 times in the head, and shot each child once in the head. He then drove to the home of his twin brother, admitted to him what he had done, borrowed a shovel, then drove to a secluded area and buried all three in a shallow grave. After 4 witnesses had testified at trial, Trueblood indicated a desire to plead guilty and did so. When interviewed by the Probation Officer for the Presentence Report, Trueblood claimed that Susan had shot the kids, then killed herself. He then sought to withdraw his guilty plea, which was denied.
W / M / 31 - 46
Trueblood v. State, 587 N.E.2d 105 (Ind. February 28, 1992).
Conviction Affirmed 5-0 DP Affirmed 5-0
Shepard Opinion; Debruler, Givan, Dickson, Krahulik concur.
Trueblood v. Indiana, 113 S. Ct. 278 (1992) (Cert. denied).
05-09-94 PCR filed; Denied 08-12-96.
Trueblood v. State, 715 N.E. 2d 1242 (Ind. September 9, 1999).
Trueblood v. Anderson, 156 F.Supp.2d 1056 (N.D.Ind. 2001).
Trueblood v. Davis, 301 F.3d 784 (7th Cir. 2002).
Trueblood refused a special last meal. "This is the way I'm protesting what the state is getting ready to do." Instead, he was given the same dinner as other inmates: a bologna sandwich, a cheese sandwich, cookies and fruit.
In a final statement, Trueblood reiterated his innocence, asserting that Bowsher had killed herself and her children and that his attorneys had told him that pleading guilty was the best way to avoid the death penalty. "That's the only reason I pleaded guilty," he said, in a statement given through attorney John Sommers. "If I had been given a lie detector test, it would have proven I was telling the truth."
Clark County Prosecuting Attorney
JOSEPH L. TRUEBLOOD (ON DEATH ROW SINCE 04-12-90)
Court: Tippecanoe County Superior Court
Trial Judge: Ronald E. Melichar
Prosecutor: Jerry Bean, John Meyers
Defense Attorney: Tom O'Brien, Mike O'Reilly
Date of Murder: August 15, 1988
Victim(s): Susan Bowsher W/F/23 (ex-girlfriend); Ashlyn Bowsher W/F/2 and William Bowsher W/M/17 months (children of Susan)
Method of Murder: shooting with handgun
Sentencing: April 12, 1990
Aggravating Circumstances: 2 victims less than 12 years of age; 3 murders.
Mitigating Circumstances: extreme emotional disturbance; good conduct while in jail awaiting trial; mixed personality disorder; kind to children; heroism for pulling woman from burning building.
"Joseph Trueblood Put to Death; Relatives of Ex-Girlfriend, 2 Children Waited for Call, Closure," by Shannon Tan. (June 13, 2003)
MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. -- Joseph L. Trueblood, who shot and killed a woman and her two children 15 years ago, was executed by lethal injection at 12:24 a.m. today at the Indiana State Prison. Trueblood, 46, Lafayette, was convicted in the fatal shootings on Aug. 15, 1988 of Susan Bowsher, 22, and her children Ashelyn, 2, and William, 1.
In Lafayette Thursday, relatives of those victims gathered to await a phone call from a prison official confirming the death sentence had been carried out. "At least I can give my sister and her children some peace," said Paul Bowsher Jr., Susan Bowsher's brother. "I think after it's all said and done, I think we want to be left alone."
Gov. Frank O'Bannon denied Trueblood's clemency petition on Wednesday. Trueblood had asked that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison. And less than 10 hours before he was scheduled to be executed, the Indiana Supreme Court again refused to spare him. Trueblood had argued that O'Bannon didn't follow proper procedures in the clemency by not considering certain evidence. But in its unanimous denial, the justices disagreed. "The exclusive power to grant clemency rests with the governor," Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote. About 8 p.m. Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court also denied a stay of execution.
Trueblood visited with family members and friends Thursday but did not ask them to witness his execution. His attorneys -- John Sommer, Kathleen Cleary and Chris Hitz-Bradley -- and a Catholic priest, Rev. Thomas McNally, were going to witness his execution. Trueblood refused a special last meal. "This is the way I'm protesting what the state is getting ready to do," he said Tuesday.
Among those he met with on his last day was Katie Pawski, 25, a University of Notre Dame graduate who got to know Trueblood through a priest while she attended college. Pawski said she and Trueblood ate candy, soft drinks and chips from a vending machine and prayed together. Beverly Miller, 56, who also visits Death Row inmates, has known Trueblood for 12 years. She said Thursday that "he believes he will be in heaven with Susan and (the) children."
Trueblood also is battling the Department of Correction to prevent an autopsy. A LaPorte County judge on Thursday granted a temporary restraining order preventing the department from conducting an autopsy, according to Trueblood's attorneys. A hearing will be held at 1 p.m. today to decide whether the autopsy will take place. "I don't want my body desecrated in any way," Trueblood said. "Once they murder me, they no longer have any authority over me." Trueblood said at the news conference his family was claiming the body and he would be buried near Lafayette.
Death penalty opponents gathered outside the governor's mansion in Indianapolis and outside the Indiana State Prison Thursday night. At the governor's residence at 46th and Meridian streets, about 25 protesters gathered -- even though O'Bannon isn't there. He has moved out while the mansion is renovated. Holding an "Execution is Murder" sign, bookseller Diane Plantenga said: "I think it is ridiculous to kill to teach that killing is wrong."
Some drivers in passing cars honked their horns in apparent support; one man in a passing car yelled "Kill 'em all!" "I wanted to be out here and show my face against people like that," said Abbey Hambright. When demonstrator Jennifer Cobb got too close to the curb, she was clipped in the elbow by a passing vehicle's side mirror. The impact tore the mirror from the vehicle -- which didn't stop -- but Cobb wasn't hurt and didn't leave, though an ambulance was called to check her out.
Up in Michigan City, as the hour of execution neared, the 15 death penalty opponents gathered outside the prison gates began chanting the Lord's Prayer, as Trueblood had requested. They included Marvin B. Hayes, who said he was a retired correctional officer who had worked on Death Row. "I'm pro-life," he said. "When I say that, many people misinterpret it. I'm against abortion -- but I'm also against this." About half a dozen death-penalty supporters also were there, including four who live nearby. Mark Hamner had a longer trip; he drove up from Indianapolis. "People in Indiana support the death penalty," Hamner said. "There are some crimes that deserve the harshest penalty."
Trueblood's attorneys argued that Trueblood -- a Lafayette taxi driver who had an abusive childhood -- had suffered brain damage from several strokes. They also cited his heroism in saving a woman from a burning building. Trueblood also claims when he pleaded guilty to the children's murders, his trial attorney told him he had a plea bargain and would not be sentenced to death. Trueblood maintains that Bowsher, who was suicidal, shot her children before shooting herself. Trueblood said he then fired the final shot out of compassion. Prosecutors, however, said Trueblood was upset that Bowsher, with whom he had been living, was planning on returning to her ex-husband.
"Condemned Can Make Big Deal Out of Last Meal," by Abbie VanSickle. (June 13, 2003)
State gives inmates choice of anything but alcohol from selected restaurant menus.
When Joseph L. Trueblood skipped the ritual of a final meal to protest his execution, he passed up the chance to have almost anything he wanted on the public's tab. Condemned Indiana inmates have asked for -- and gotten -- everything from steak to Brussels sprouts, and taxpayers have spent as much as $150 to meet their requests. Prisoners can have about whatever they want from the menus of four restaurants in Michigan City, where Indiana has its Death Row. The restaurants serve hearty meat-and-potatoes fare, said prison spokesman Barry Nothstine. The only thing banned is alcohol.
Of the 38 states that have the death penalty, most offer some type of last meal a few days before the execution, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. He said an exact count is difficult because it is an informal ritual for many Death Rows. In Indiana, a condemned prisoner's last meal is actually served two days before the execution. Nothstine said the prison changed the meal's timing in 1995 because many inmates told officials they weren't hungry in the 24 hours before their death. So inmates eat regular prison fare the day they die. Trueblood was served a bologna sandwich, a cheese sandwich, cookies, crackers, fruit and Kool-Aid.
Offering special meals well before executions may be more humane, said Fordham University law Professor Deborah Denno, an expert on the use of lethal injections. Denno said the tradition of giving prisoners a large, heavy meal as little as six to eight hours before lethal injection raises the chance the inmate will choke or gag when the first of three chemicals, sodium thiopental, an anesthetic agent, is injected.
As for the popularity of items such as "Last Meal," a new coffee table book on the final dining of executed prisoners, or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Web posting that lists inmates and their last meals -- all the way back to 1982 -- Denno credits the natural human interest in death. "I think it appeals to our ghoulish instincts, and we're a rather violent country," she said. "Plus, death is something we all share. I think people are always fascinated with something like that that we fear."
Other last meals in Indiana:
Joseph Trueblood refused the option of a special meal before his scheduled execution. In recent years, three other inmates also have declined to make any special requests -- Tommie J. Smith (1996), James Lowery (2001) and Kevin Hough (2003).
But many Indiana Death Row inmates have had elaborate meal plans:
• Steven T. Judy, executed March 9, 1981, ordered prime ribs and lobster.
• William Vandiver, executed Oct. 16, 1985, ordered a soda and a pizza with everything -- except anchovies.
• Gregory Resnover, executed Dec. 8, 1994, ordered fried chicken, whipped potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, salad and ice cream with chilled peaches.
• Gary Burris, executed Nov. 20, 1997, ordered steak and lobster, a baked potato, a salad with Thousand Island and bleu cheese dressing, and cheesecake. He also drank two espressos.
• Robert A. Smith, executed Jan. 29, 1998, ordered steak, lobster, shrimp cocktail, chicken livers, fried eggplant, meatballs, salad with bleu cheese dressing, a loaf of bread, an entire Boston cream pie and three cans of Dr Pepper.
• Gerald W. Bivins, executed March 14, 2001, ate German ravioli and chicken and dumplings prepared by his mother.
South Bend Tribune
"State Executes Trueblood for Triple Murder," by Ryan Lenz. (AP June 13, 2003)
MICHIGAN CITY— A convicted murderer executed by injection for the 1988 shooting deaths of his girlfriend and her two children had asked the state not to perform an autopsy on his body. Speaking outside the Indiana State Prison following the execution early Friday morning, Joseph Trueblood's attorneys said the state should turn Trueblood's body over to his family. "Joe's sentence was death. The state of Indiana has carried out its sentence, it has killed Joe," said Christopher Hitz-Bradley, one of three attorneys who witnessed the execution. "One of the things he was absolutely adamant about was that no autopsy be done on him."
A LaPorte Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order Thursday barring the state from conducting an autopsy on Trueblood. A final ruling was expected Friday. Prison spokesman Barry Nothstine said he could not remember a death row inmate ever fighting an autopsy in his 16 years with the prison.
Officials at the Indiana State Prison pronounced Trueblood dead at 12:24 a.m., about four hours after his final court appeal was rejected. Trueblood, 46, of Lafayette, was convicted of the shooting deaths of Susan Bowsher of Lafayette and her children, 2-year-old Ashelyn Hughes and 1-year-old William E. Bowsher. Though he had a television and telephone to use, prison officials said Trueblood spent his final hours visiting with family and friends. They said he made no telephone calls. Trueblood also rejected a last meal.
The U.S. Supreme Court, which had refused to reconsider Trueblood's case, denied a stay of execution about 8 p.m. Thursday. Gov. Frank O'Bannon denied his clemency request Wednesday.
About 20 anti-death penalty protesters gathered outside the prison gates hours before the execution for a candlelight vigil, carrying signs with such slogans as "They lie and the poor die." Among them was Kevin Noringer, 50, a steel worker from Michigan City. He sat outside the prison holding a candle hours before the execution. "I'm sorry that the community that I live in does this," Noringer said. "To me this is just as barbaric as the original crime." Two death penalty supporters — off-duty police officers from Indianapolis — also stood outside the gates. "I think his crime definitely fits the criteria for the death penalty. And there's no question that by far the majority of Hoosiers support the death penalty," said Mark Hamner, 36. "We are standing up for the victims who can no longer speak for themselves."
According to court testimony, Trueblood became enraged in 1988 after learning Bowsher planned to leave him and return to her ex-husband. He shot Bowsher and her two children and buried their bodies in shallow graves in rural Fountain County in western Indiana.
Trueblood, the 11th person put to death by the state since it resumed executions in 1981 after 20 years without any, had said he killed Bowsher, but claimed in his appeals that she had killed the children. The victims' family was not present for the execution. Indiana law does not allow anyone to view an execution without the condemned inmate's consent.
CNN Law Center
"Indiana Executes Man for Shooting His Girlfriend, Children." (AP June 13, 2003)
MICHIGAN CITY, Indiana (AP) -- An Indiana man was executed by lethal injection early Friday for the 1988 shooting deaths of his girlfriend and her two children. Officials at the Indiana State Prison pronounced Joseph Trueblood dead at 12:24 a.m., about four hours after his final court appeal was rejected. Trueblood, 46, was convicted in the murders of Susan Bowsher of Lafayette and her children, 2-year-old Ashelyn Hughes and 1-year-old William E. Bowsher.
Trueblood rejected the prison's customary practice of conducting an autopsy on executed inmates. A LaPorte Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order Thursday barring the state from conducting an autopsy and was expected to issue a final ruling Friday. Trueblood's attorney Don Pagos said there was no point in an autopsy since the cause of death would be known. Prison spokesman Barry Nothstine said he could not remember a death row inmate ever fighting an autopsy in his 16 years with the prison.
According to court testimony, Trueblood became enraged in 1988 after learning Bowsher planned to leave him and return to her ex-husband. He shot Bowsher and her two children and buried their bodies in shallow graves in rural Fountain County in western Indiana. Trueblood told the parole board last month that he was driving with Bowsher and her children on a rural road outside Lafayette when she pulled out a handgun and shot Ashelyn.
He said he tried to wrestle the gun from Bowsher with one hand as he drove with the other. The gun went off twice more, with the second shot hitting William in the head. He said Bowsher then shot herself twice and that she was wounded so badly he fatally shot her in an act of mercy.
Trueblood was the 11th person put to death by the state since it resumed executions in 1981 after 20 years without any.
"Indiana Executes Triple Murderer." (Reuters June 13, 2003)
MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. - The state of Indiana executed a man on Friday who killed his girlfriend, her two-year-old daughter and one-year-old son. Joseph Trueblood, 46, was pronounced dead at 1:24 a.m. EDT following a lethal injection, said officials at the Indiana State Prison.
His was the 858th execution since the United States resumed capital punishment in 1976, the 38th so far this year and the second in Indiana in six weeks.
Trueblood pleaded guilty to the 1988 shooting deaths of Susan Bowsher, 22, and her two children. Police said he had been dating Bowsher but became enraged and shot all three when she told him she planned to reconcile with her ex-husband. He made a number of appeals over the years, saying Bowsher actually shot the children and herself in an act of suicide.
In a final statement, Trueblood reiterated his innocence, asserting that Bowsher had killed herself and her children and that his attorneys had told him that pleading guilty was the best way to avoid the death penalty. "That's the only reason I pleaded guilty," he said, in a statement given through attorney John Sommers. "If I had been given a lie detector test, it would have proven I was telling the truth."
Trueblood had not requested a special final meal but was given the same dinner as other inmates: a bologna sandwich, a cheese sandwich, cookies and fruit. Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon rejected his final plea for clemency, saying Trueblood had presented no new evidence of innocence.
There has been a renewed debate over capital punishment in the United States, which is alone among western democracies in still carrying it out. It was prompted by the former governor of Illinois, George Ryan, who put a hold on all executions in that state and them emptied the state's death row pending a reform of laws designed to protect the innocent.
Joseph Trueblood was upset with his former girlfriend, Susan Bowsher, because she expressed her intention of going back to her ex-husband. Trueblood picked up Susan and her two small children one day and while they were in the car he shot Susan 3 times in the head, and shot each child once in the head. He then drove to the home of his twin brother, admitted to him what he had done, borrowed a shovel, then drove to a secluded area and buried all three in a shallow grave. After 4 witnesses had testified at trial, Trueblood indicated a desire to plead guilty and did so. When interviewed by the Probation Officer for the Presentence Report, Trueblood claimed that Susan had shot the kids, then killed herself. He then sought to withdraw his guilty plea, which was denied.
UPDATE: In Michigan City, prison officials executed Lafayette taxi driver Joseph Trueblood early today for the shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend and her 2 children. Trueblood, 46, was moved into a holding cell at the Indiana State Prison Thursday night. Shortly after midnight, he was placed on a gurney and rolled to the white-painted execution chamber, where prison officials administered a lethal dose of drugs via intravenous feeds in each arm. Prison officials pronounced Trueblood dead at 12:24 a.m.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution for Trueblood about 8 p.m. Thursday. The court had refused without comment to reconsider the case earlier this week, and Gov. Frank O'Bannon on Wednesday rejected his clemency request. Earlier this week, Trueblood told reporters he did not intend to cooperate with authorities in his death. He rejected the traditional last meal and said he did not want his body to be autopsied. A LaPorte Superior Court judge on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order preventing an autopsy by the state Department of Correction following Trueblood's execution. Don Pagos, a Michigan City attorney representing Trueblood, argued there was no point in an autopsy since the cause of death would be known. A final ruling was expected Friday.
Trueblood said he did not want any of his family members to witness his execution. His witnesses were to be his 3 appeals lawyers and the Rev. Thomas McNally, a Roman Catholic priest. McNally and family members were among Trueblood's visitors during his last full day on death row. Another visitor was Katie Pawski of Chicago, a 25-year-old University of Notre Dame graduate who addressed about 20 anti-death penalty protesters outside the prison gates Thursday night. "He's a human being with humanity and compassion," said Pawski, who met Trueblood while doing prison outreach while attending Notre Dame. "Nobody deserves to die. Killing creates more victims," she said.
Trueblood, 46, was condemned for the 1988 murders of Susan Bowsher of Lafayette and her children, 2-year-old Ashelyn Hughes and 1-year-old William E. Bowsher. Prosecutors said he shot the woman and children to death after learning that she intended to return to her ex-husband. Trueblood said the deaths resulted from a suicide attempt by Susan Bowsher. Trueblood told the parole board last month that he, Bowsher and her children were driving on a rural road outside Lafayette when she pulled out a handgun and shot Ashelyn. He described Bowsher as suicidal. He said he tried to wrestle the gun from Bowsher with one hand as he drove with the other. The gun went off twice more, with the 2nd shot hitting William in the head. He said Bowsher then shot herself twice and that she was wounded so badly he fatally shot her in an act of mercy. The parole board chairman, however, called Trueblood's account "wholly improbable." Relatives and friends of Bowsher have called his story a lie and asked for the execution to be carried out.
Trueblood is scheduled for execution June 13 for the murders of his girlfriend and her two children, ages 2 and 1. The murders occurred in 1988. His lawyers now appear to be mounting a mental retardation defense. Trueblood, 46, had pleaded guilty to the murders. The victims were Susan Bowsher Hughes, 22, and her two children, Ashelyn, 2, and William, 1. The murders occurred in Tippecanoe County. Court documents stated that on Aug. 15, 1988, Trueblood picked up Hughes and her two children, shot them each in the head and borrowed a shovel from his twin brother to bury them in a rural area outside of Lafayette. His twin brother later testified against him in court, saying he had confessed to murdering the woman and two children.
The motive for the murders appeared to be Hughes decision to return to her ex-husband. Trueblood once claimed he shot Hughes - at her request- after she had killed the children. But later, he admitted the killings in court. On Oct. 6, 1988, he pleaded guilty to the murder of Susan Hughes. In February 1990, following two days of trial, Trueblood decided to plead guilty to the murders of the two children. he was sentenced to death in all three cases by a judge. Throughout his appeals, defense lawyers for Trueblood claim his trial attorney should not have allowed him to plead guilty, saying he has mental problems. After his initial guilty pleas, Trueblood later tried to withdraw them, but has been denied by the courts.
Despite the guilty pleas, a federal judge in 2001 had overturned the death sentences for the murders of the children and even Trueblood’s conviction for murdering Hughes. The judge contended that Trueblood didn’t understand that by admitting to the murders, he could be sentenced to death. However, a federal appeals court alter overturned that ruling-putting Trueblood back on track for the death house.
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Joseph Trueblood, Indiana - June 13, 2003
The state of Indiana is scheduled to execute Joseph Trueblood May 13 for the murders of Susan Bowsher Hughes and her two children, Ashelyn and William, in Tippecanoe County. Trueblood, a white man, allegedly shot them each in the head on Aug. 15, 1988. He pled guilty to the murders, and in 1990, a judge sentenced him death. On May 28, the Indiana Parole Board voted against a clemency recommendation.
Trueblood has argued throughout the years that his trial judge failed to properly weigh the mitigating evidence in his case. Records indicate that he was depressed and possibly suicidal at the time of the crime, and that his mixed personality disorder impacted his judgment. A mental health therapist testified that Trueblood suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his abusive childhood, and other experts noted his anti-social personality traits. A forensic social worker also pointed to his exceptionally poor educational background as another mitigating factor.
The court also failed to give adequate consideration to the fact that Trueblood had saved a woman’s life by pulling her out of a fire. This, along with his commendable record as a prison inmate, shows his humanity and compassion, which all too often fall by the wayside in the death penalty process.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of people with mental retardation in 2002, the states have a long way to go in terms of dealing with mental retardation and mental health in the criminal justice system. The mitigating evidence in Trueblood’s case reveals a man damaged by an abusive upbringing and plagued by struggles with mental illness; executing such a person clearly constitutes a despicable human rights violation.
Trueblood has also argued that his defense counsel failed to present all the available mitigating evidence at his trial, which could have helped him avoid a death sentence. Indiana has executed one person – Kevin Hough – in 2003; Hough also had a very strong ineffective assistance claim.
Gov. Frank O’Bannon is a staunch proponent of the death penalty, and the Indiana Parole Board is equally merciless. However, sooner or later the state of Indiana must face the fact that the death penalty is an inadequate solution to the cycles of abuse and violence in society, and that fundamental flaws plague the fairness of the system. Please write Gov. O’Bannon and urge him to ask the board to reconsider its decision in Joseph Trueblood’s case and re-evaluate Indiana’s death penalty system.
"Slayings, execution cast long shadow; Family members and authorities await closure," by Shannon Tan. (June 12, 2003)
Susan Bowsher now lies in a Lafayette cemetery with her two children. Even in death, she still cradles 1-year-old Billy, and the arms of Ashelyn, 2, wrap her in an undying hug. The three rest in the same pose that their killer, Joseph Trueblood, left them in 15 years ago when he buried them in a Fountain County woods. Shortly after midnight, Trueblood is scheduled to die for the murders of his ex-girlfriend and her two children. His execution will be Indiana's second in six weeks, and the 11th in Indiana since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. On Wednesday, Gov. Frank O'Bannon denied Trueblood's request for clemency.
Those affected by the crime describe an excruciating wait that has lasted more than a decade, leaving a haunting trail that will remain even after Trueblood's death. For the Bowsher family, his execution puts an end to years of appeals. Finally, Trueblood will breathe no more. Carolyn "Sue" Bowsher, Susan's mother, doesn't plan on going to Michigan City for the execution. She'll stay at home and wait for a phone call from prison officials. "At least my babies will be put to rest then," she said. For Trueblood's family, the pain has only begun.
Each year, when Paul E. Bowsher Jr.'s August birthday rolls by, he remembers his 22-year-old sister's death: Aug. 15, 1988. Almost every day, he stops by her grave. He's kept her hope chest filled with the children's toys, pillows embroidered with their birthdates and an unfinished stitching of their family tree. He wishes his daughter could have met his niece and nephew. The only way he thinks he could expect closure would be to watch Trueblood die. During court hearings, he wanted to snatch Trueblood, 46, out of the courtroom and make him suffer, too. "He should have been put to death within a year," the Lafayette assistant restaurant manager said. "For 15 years, you're getting free room, board, free clothing. Hell, we're the ones supporting you."
For 15 years, Robert Hughes has seen Trueblood's face in his worst dreams. "I still have nightmares he might escape from prison," he said, "or if they go give him chemicals that kill him, it might not work." After losing his children and the woman he was going to remarry, Hughes spent seven or eight months in a Lafayette mental hospital. For the past decade, the Lafayette truck driver has avoided talking publicly about the murders. He's angry that Trueblood claims Bowsher shot the children and that he finished her off as an act of mercy. "You made a mistake in life," he wants to tell Trueblood. "It's time to take responsibility for what you've done." Trueblood's family lived down the street from Bowsher. Trueblood had stalked her since she was 15, said Hughes, who remembers Trueblood following them on dates. The two married after Ashelyn was born but divorced when Billy was a few months old. She planned on remarrying Hughes, he said, and they were going to leave Indiana to escape Trueblood. Then Trueblood killed Bowsher and the kids.
Jim Withers left police work 13 years ago but still remembers the killings like they happened last night. Trueblood's sister-in-law had shown up to work the morning after the murders and claimed Trueblood had killed three people. After burying the bodies, she told police, he showered at his twin brother's home before returning to rebury the bodies -- this time deeper in the woods. Withers, then a Lafayette police captain, cornered Trueblood on a dead-end street. "His car was full of blood from one end to the other," Withers said. "It was so bloody he cut out the fabric portion of the seats where the blood had soaked in." Trueblood first agreed to show Withers the bodies but took him beyond the wooded burial site and then asked for an attorney, without revealing the grave. The next day -- three days after the slayings -- police found the bodies by spotting flies and signs of digging. Autopsies showed Bowsher was shot three times, and her children were each shot once. On the night of the murders, witnesses had seen Trueblood burning things in an alley. Police found charred fabric and a pair of eyeglass frames that probably belonged to Bowsher. "You can't forget anything like that," said Withers, a policeman for 26 years before retiring in 1990. Even in retirement, he says, "it's my job to see that this case is resolved."
Tippecanoe County Deputy Prosecutor John Meyers has sought the death penalty only twice. And he has no doubt about the guilt of Jim Lowery, who was executed in 2001, and Trueblood. "This is not a case where there is any doubt about it," Meyers said. "I hate the notion we do this, but I think it's wholly justified here." Meyers can't get rid of an image that has stuck in his mind all these years. "He shot the little girl last," he said. "That little girl was looking down the barrel of the gun when he pulled the trigger," he said, "and that little girl never did anything to him. "Anyone who feels any sympathy for him should remember that."
When Trueblood dies, John Sommer will mourn his death like he would that of a family member. People tell him not to take it personally. But a life is on the line. "This will be the most tragic, unavoidable loss for me," said Sommer, Trueblood's attorney. "I do believe he deserves relief. If he doesn't get it, I'll feel it's my personal fault." Maybe there was something he could have tried differently or done better. Sommer, 39, hasn't taken on another Indiana death penalty case in more than seven years. It got to be too much. Instead, he is an Indianapolis attorney working for special-needs children and their families. He figures helping them as kids will prevent them from turning into criminals. He represented Charles Roche Jr., who had his death sentence vacated last year. In Florida, 18 Death Row inmates were his clients, including Frank Lee Smith, who died of cancer months before DNA proved his innocence. Every day, he checks to see if any of the other inmates have execution dates. Trueblood has asked Sommer to watch him die. It will be his first execution.
"Condemned Killer Asks for Polygraph; Trueblood slated to die early Friday for 3 murders," by Shannon Tan. (June 11, 2003)
MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. -- With just days to live, Joseph L. Trueblood asked Gov. Frank O'Bannon on Tuesday for a polygraph test to prove the Death Row inmate has been telling the truth. Trueblood insists his lawyers told him he would not face death when he pleaded guilty to killing Ashelyn Bowsher, 2, and her 1-year-old brother, Billy. Trueblood expected a prison term of 30 to 40 years, he told reporters. Instead, Trueblood is scheduled to die early Friday for killing the children and their mother, Susan Bowsher, 22, his former girlfriend -- unless O'Bannon intervenes. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the execution.
Trueblood, 46, read his handwritten "dying declaration" at a news conference Tuesday at the Indiana State Prison. Even as he pleaded for his life, it was clear he had begun to accept the prospect of his death. He hoped to be buried next to Bowsher and her children in Lafayette, but that won't happen. His family will claim his body; he will be buried "near Lafayette" instead. He is fighting the Indiana Department of Correction to avoid an autopsy and will decline his last meal. "I'm not going to cooperate that much with the state of Indiana," he said.
Like all Indiana Death Row inmates about to be executed, Trueblood was allowed to hold one news conference. The policy was implemented around 1999 to reduce what had become a flood of media requests for in-person interviews, State Prison spokesman Barry Nothstine said. In 1996, Tommie Smith granted up to 27 interviews before his execution, Nothstine said, and in 1998, Robert Smith gave 16. The last inmate news conference, by Gerald Bivins in 2001, was in stark contrast to Tuesday's. Then, Bivins surprised the family of his victim with expressions of remorse and sorrow.
Trueblood has written at least one letter to O'Bannon seeking a lie detector test. Although he has yet to rule in this case, O'Bannon has not granted clemency to any inmate since taking office in 1997. "Nobody has the right to take another human being's life, and that includes me," Trueblood said. "And that includes the state."
Trueblood, a former Lafayette taxi driver who suffered an abusive childhood, has contended Bowsher shot her children before shooting herself on Aug. 15, 1988. He said he then fired the final shot into Bowsher as an act of compassion. "I'm responsible for their deaths," Trueblood said.
He said he has forgiven his twin brother, William, who testified against him at trial. That testimony was key because, after the killings, Trueblood drove to his brother's home to borrow a shovel before burying the bodies. Thursday, Trueblood will spend time with relatives. Then, after taking a shower and putting on a new set of khakis, he'll be taken to the execution room, accompanied by a Catholic priest until strapped to a gurney to await the prick of a needle. Trueblood asked the priest and his lawyers -- John Sommer, Kathleen Cleary and Chris Hitz-Bradley -- to witness his death. The condemned decides who can witness the execution. "You still keep hope alive in yourself," he said. "It's not a good idea to give up. But also, you have to realize and accept the fact that I'm going to die. I think I've pretty much accepted that."
Kim Orrell, Bowsher's friend, said in a statement that the victims had no appeals, parole hearings or news conferences. "Joe, you are about ready to answer to the highest authority there is, and he knows the whole truth in this matter," she wrote. "You will once again answer for your wrongdoings."
"Clemency Denied for Trueblood ." (June 11, 2003)
Gov. Frank O'Bannon denied clemency for Death Row inmate Joseph Trueblood today, saying his guilt in the 1988 shooting deaths of his girlfriend and her two children was clear and his legal proceedings fair. Trueblood is scheduled to die by lethal injection early Friday at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.
"Trueblood's claims of legal error have received extensive consideration in state and federal courts, and all of them have been rejected," O'Bannon said in his denial statement. "He has presented no new evidence indicating that he is innocent or showing that a miscarriage of justice took place."
Trueblood, 46, was condemned for the murders of Susan Bowsher of Lafayette and her children, 2-year-old Ashelyn Hughes and 1-year-old William E. Bowsher. According to trial testimony, Trueblood became enraged after learning Bowsher planned to return to her ex-husband. He shot Bowsher and her two children and buried their bodies in shallow graves in rural Fountain County in western Indiana.
"Condemned Man Seeks Lie Detector Test ," by Shannon Tan (June 10, 2003)
MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. -- With two days to live, Joseph L. Trueblood asked Gov. Frank O'Bannon today to give him a polygraph test to prove he's been telling the truth for more than a decade: When he pleaded guilty to killing 2-year-old Ashelyn Bowsher and her brother, Billy, 1, Trueblood says his attorneys told him he would not be sentenced to death.
Trueblood, 46, read from his handwritten "dying declaration" at a news conference held in Indiana State Prison. He told reporters he thought his sentence would be 30 to 40 years in prison. Instead, he will die shortly after midnight Thursday for murdering his ex-girlfriend, Susan Bowsher, 22, and her children. O'Bannon today took no action on Trueblood's pending clemency request, which the state parole board voted unanimously last month to recommend against. The U.S. Supreme Court also today refused without comment to block the execution, the Associated Press reported.
Trueblood has written at least one letter to O'Bannon -- who has never granted clemency to an inmate since taking office in 1997 -- asking for a polygraph. "Nobody has the right to take another human being's life, and that includes me," said Trueblood, who wore a red prison jumpsuit and was shackled at the wrists and ankles. "And that includes the state."
Trueblood, a former Lafayette taxi driver who suffered an abusive childhood, has claimed Bowsher shot her children before shooting herself on Aug. 15, 1988. He supposedly then fired the final shot as an act of compassion. "I'm responsible for their deaths," Trueblood said. He hoped to be buried next to Bowsher and her children in Lafayette, but Trueblood said he will be buried "near Lafayette" instead. He doesn't want the state to conduct an autopsy on his body. There will be no last meal. "I'm not going to cooperate that much with the state of Indiana," he said. "This is the way I'm protesting what the state is ready to do."
Trueblood said he has forgiven his twin brother, William, who testified against him at trial. After the killings, Trueblood drove to his brother's home to borrow a shovel before burying the bodies in a shallow grave.
On Thursday, Trueblood will spend time with family members. Then, after taking a shower and putting on a new pair of khakis, he'll be taken to the execution room. A Catholic priest will remain with him until the time comes for him to be strapped to a gurney awaiting the prick of a needle. "You still keep hope alive in yourself," he said. "It's not a good idea to give up. But also, you have to realize and accept the fact that I'm going to die. I think I've pretty much accepted that."
Like all Indiana Death Row inmates about to be executed, Trueblood was given the chance to hold one news conference. The policy was implemented around 1998 or 1999 to reduce the flood of media requests for in-person interviews, said Indiana State Prison spokesman Barry Nothstine. The last inmate who chose to give a news conference was Gerald Bivins, who was executed in 2001.
Trueblood v. State, 587 N.E.2d 105 (Ind. February 28, 1992). (Direct Appeal)
Defendant pled guilty to three counts of murder, and was sentenced to death by the Tippecanoe Circuit Court, Ronald E. Melichar, J., and defendant appealed. The Supreme Court, Shepard, C.J., held that: (1) trial court may refuse to permit withdrawal of guilty plea in capital case if guilty plea is reliable; (2) trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to permit defendant to withdraw guilty plea; (3) trial court did not erroneously fail to consider mitigating circumstances; (4) trial court did not erroneously find aggravating circumstance; and (5) trial court properly imposed death penalty. Affirmed. Krahulik, J., concurred in result.
SHEPARD, Chief Justice.
Joseph L. Trueblood pled guilty to three counts of murder. Ind.Code § 35-42-1-1(1) (West Supp.1991). The trial court sentenced him to death for these murders. We affirm. In this direct appeal, Trueblood has raised two issues:
I. Whether the court erred in refusing to allow Trueblood to withdraw his guilty pleas, and II. Whether the court failed to consider available mitigating circumstances and found an aggravating circumstance which was not supported by the evidence.
The facts most favorable to the judgment are as follows. Trueblood, a former boyfriend of Susan Bowsher, was upset with Susan because she was going to return to her ex-husband. He took a gun from his parents' house. A few days later on August 15, 1988, he picked up Susan and her two children, Ashlyn, age two and a half, and William, age seventeen months. While they were in his automobile Trueblood shot each of them in the head, killing all three. He then drove to his brother's home and borrowed a shovel. He took the victims to a secluded area and buried them in a shallow grave.
Trueblood pled guilty to the murder of Susan on October 6, 1988. On December 6, 1989, he filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, which the trial court denied. In February 1990, he went to trial on the charges of murdering the children. After several prosecution witnesses testified before the jury, Trueblood informed the court that he wanted to plead guilty to the murders of the children. The court took the plea and then discharged the jury. Within two or three days, Trueblood changed his story while giving his version of events to the probation officer for the pre-sentence investigation report. On March 2, 1990, he asked the court to allow him to withdraw the guilty pleas with respect to the children and proceed with a new trial. The trial court denied his request, expressly finding Trueblood was telling the truth when he pled guilty to the murders of the children and was not being truthful about the withdrawal of these pleas. The court subsequently heard evidence and argument relative to the imposition of the death penalty, and sentenced Trueblood to death for the three murders.
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The trial court was thus called upon to weigh substantial aggravating circumstances--the commission of a triple murder and the murder of young children--against the modest mitigators described above. The trial judge was warranted in finding that the aggravators outweighed the mitigators and in imposing the death penalty in accordance with Ind.Code § 35-50-2-9. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
DeBRULER, GIVAN and DICKSON, JJ., concur. KRAHULIK, J., concurs in result.
Trueblood v. State, 715 N.E. 2d 1242 (Ind. September 9, 1999). (PCR)
Defendant convicted, on his plea of guilty, of the murder of his ex-girlfriend and her two children, affirmed at 587 N.E.2d 105 petitioned for postconviction relief. The Tippecanoe Circuit Court, Thomas K. Milligan, Special Judge, denied the petition, and defendant appealed. The Supreme Court, Boehm, J., held that: (1) defendant was not denied effective assistance of trial or appellate counsel; (2) postconviction court's exclusion of evidence was not an abuse of discretion; and (3) evidence supported conclusion that guilty pleas were voluntary and intelligent. Affirmed.
Joseph L. Trueblood pleaded guilty to the murders of Susan Bowsher and her two children. He was sentenced to death for each of the three murders. He appeals the denial of his petition for postconviction relief and raises eight issues, which we restate as four: (1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel; (2) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel; (3) the postconviction court's summary disposition of claims and exclusion of evidence at the postconviction hearing; and (4) the voluntariness and intelligence of the guilty pleas.
Factual and Procedural Background
On August 15, 1988, Trueblood picked up his ex-girlfriend Susan Bowsher and her two children and, while they were in his automobile, shot each of them in the head. After borrowing a shovel from his brother's home, Trueblood took the bodies to a secluded area and buried them in a shallow grave. Trueblood v. State, 587 N.E.2d 105, 107 (Ind.1992).
Trueblood pleaded guilty to the murder of Susan on October 6, 1988. More than a year later he sought to withdraw that guilty plea, but his request was denied. In February of 1990, a jury trial commenced for the murders of the two children. After two days of trial, Trueblood pleaded guilty to both murders and the trial court accepted those guilty pleas. A few days later, Trueblood sought leave to withdraw the last two guilty pleas and that leave was also denied by the trial court. Trueblood was sentenced to death on each of the three counts. On direct appeal this Court affirmed the trial court's denials of the motions to withdraw his guilty pleas. The death sentences were also affirmed. See id. at 110-11.
Trueblood then filed a petition for postconviction relief. Both parties moved for summary judgment as to some issues, and the trial court denied Trueblood's motion, granted the State's, and sua sponte dismissed some of Trueblood's other claims. After an evidentiary hearing that spanned five days, the postconviction court denied Trueblood's remaining claims. This appeal ensued.
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In sum, the postconviction court concluded that the guilty pleas were voluntary and intelligent and refused to vacate them. That determination turned on factual issues and is therefore entitled deference on appeal. See Harrison v. State, 707 N.E.2d 767, 773 (Ind.1999). Because Trueblood has not convinced this Court that the evidence as a whole leads unerringly and unmistakably to a decision opposite that reached by the postconviction court, see id. at 774, we affirm the postconviction court's conclusion that the guilty pleas were voluntary and intelligent. Conclusion: The denial of postconviction relief is affirmed.
Trueblood v. Anderson, 156 F.Supp.2d 1056 (N.D.Ind. 2001) (Habeas)
Defendant pled guilty in the Tippecanoe Circuit Court, Ronald E. Melichar, J. to three counts of murder, and was sentenced to death. Upon appeal, the Supreme Court, Shepard, C.J., 587 N.E.2d 105, affirmed. Defendant's petitions for postconviction relief were denied and appeals from denial were affirmed. Defendant petitioned for writ of habeas corpus. The District Court, Allen Sharp, J., held that: (1) defendant's guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary; (2) failure by trial counsel to understand consequences of guilty plea or to correctly advise defendant of such consequences was ineffective assistance of counsel; (3) trial and appellate counsel were not otherwise ineffective; and (4) reweighing of aggravating circumstances against relevant mitigating circumstances was required. Granted in part and denied in part.
* * * * This court cannot imagine a greater consequence than the admission of guilt to one count of capital murder, which would also constitute an aggravating circumstance in two other counts of capital murder, and it is undeniable that Trueblood was not advised of the use of his plea as an aggravating circumstance in the other two murders. Thus, this court must grant the petition on this count and find the plea of guilty to Count III unknowing and unvoluntary.
* * * * While the Indiana Supreme Court found that the decision to plead Trueblood guilty to Count III was an appropriate tactical decision, there can be no tactical explanation for the failure to explain to Trueblood the full implications of that decision. The prejudice arising from the deficient performance is clear, as the plea of guilty was also an admission to an aggravating factor for each of the other murders. Thus, this court finds it must grant relief on this claim as well. This decision is supported by, but not dependent on, the decision of the Seventh Circuit in Miller.
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For the reasons stated above, the court now GRANTS the petition with respect to Grounds One, Two, and Four, and DENIES the petition with respect to Grounds Three, Five, Six, and Seven. The Great Writ is now GRANTED conditioned upon the release of Trueblood or retrial within 120 days. IT IS SO ORDERED.
Trueblood v. Davis, 301 F.3d 784 (7th Cir. 2002) (Habeas Appeal)
Petitioner, convicted in state court on plea of guilty to murder of his girlfriend and her two children, and sentenced to death, having exhausted state-court appeals, 587 N.E.2d 105, and postconviction relief, 715 N.E.2d 1242, petitioned for writ of habeas corpus. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Allen Sharp, J., 156 F.Supp.2d 1056, granted petition in part. Petitioner and state cross-appealed. The Court of Appeals, Posner, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) trial court's failure to advise defendant that conviction for murder of his girlfriend could be used as aggravating circumstance at sentencing for murder of girlfriend's children did not violate defendant's due process rights; (2) trial court's remarks at sentencing concerning helplessness of victims and coldbloodedness of crime, neither of which was aggravating factor under Indiana law, did not indicate that defendant's death sentence was based on improper factors; and (3) petitioner was not prejudiced by counsel's failure to accompany petitioner to presentence interview by probation officer. Reversed.
POSNER, Circuit Judge.
The petitioner was sentenced to death and after exhausting his state remedies, see Trueblood v. State, 587 N.E.2d 105 (Ind.1992), 715 N.E.2d 1242 (Ind.1999), sought and obtained federal habeas corpus. Trueblood v. Anderson, 156 F.Supp.2d 1056 (N.D.Ind.2001). His state custodian appeals.
Upset that his former girlfriend was planning to return to her ex-husband, the petitioner took a gun from his parents' house, picked up the woman and her two children, who were aged two and a half years and 17 months respectively, in his automobile, shot all three in the head, killing them, then borrowed a shovel from his brother and buried his three victims in a secluded spot. Charged in an Indiana state court with all three murders, he pleaded guilty to murdering the mother but decided to stand trial for the murder of the children. The theory of the defense was that the mother had shot her children and that he then at her request had killed her, a kind of mercy killing. The strategy collapsed when his brother took the stand and testified that the petitioner had confessed all three murders to him. The petitioner then interrupted the trial and pleaded guilty to murdering the children; he did this in order to avoid a jury recommendation of the death penalty. The judge nevertheless sentenced him to death, as he was authorized by Indiana's death-penalty law to do, Ind.Code § 35-50-2-9(d) ("if the trial was to the court, or the judgment was entered on a guilty plea, the court alone shall conduct the sentencing hearing"); Smith v. State, 686 N.E.2d 1264, 1271 n. 3 (Ind.1997), upon a finding of one or more statutory aggravating circumstances. The judge found two--murder of more than one person and a victim (in fact two victims) under the age of 12. Ind.Code §§ 35-50-2-9(b)(8), (12).
The federal district judge in the habeas corpus proceeding rejected some of the petitioner's challenges to the sentence, precipitating a cross-appeal by him. There was no need for the petitioner to file a cross-appeal, since he was not seeking to alter the judgment but merely defending it on additional grounds. The district judge based his grant of relief on a determination that the Indiana courts had in three respects unreasonably applied U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which is the statutory standard for habeas corpus for state prisoners. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 409, 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000)
The first involved the failure of the state trial judge to inform the petitioner explicitly that by pleading guilt to the murder of the mother he was acknowledging the existence of an aggravating circumstance (namely an additional murder victim) if he was later convicted of murdering either or both of the children and the state sought, as undoubtedly it would, and as in fact it did, the death penalty.
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For the reasons stated earlier, the petition for habeas corpus should have been denied. REVERSED.