By Liz Shepherd
COLUMBIA CITY — The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed Whitley Circuit Court’s decision on sentencing Courtney Kincaid to 30 years in prison for battering an infant, resulting in the child’s death.
On April 12, 2018, Kincaid, 31, was babysitting Emma Grace Leeman when Emma Grace sustained severe injuries to her skull. Emma Grace later died as a result of her injuries on April 13, 2018. Emma Grace’s parents are Nick and Sherry Leeman, Pierceton.
A board-certified forensic pathologist conducted an autopsy on Emma Grace and reported the cause of death as “blunt force traumatic injuries to the head,” ruling the death a homicide. A neurosurgeon who performed a craniectomy on Emma Grace said her injuries were consistent with ones seen in motor vehicle crashes.
Prior to her arrest, Kincaid gave police several different stories on what happened to Emma Grace. A polygraph examination in August 2018 showed “deception indicated” when Kincaid was asked if she injured Emma Grace and if she knew how she was hurt.
During a five-day jury trial in July 2020, Kincaid was found guilty of aggravated battery and neglect of a dependent resulting in death, both level 1 felonies. In August 2020, Whitley County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Rentschler sentenced Kincaid to 30 years in the Indiana Department of Corrections for each charge. Both counts are being served concurrently, or at the same time.
Kincaid is currently serving her prison sentence at Rockville Correctional Facility, with an estimated release date of Jan. 28, 2043.
A 13-page opinion filed by the Court of Appeals on June 3 says the court did not abuse its discretion by limiting testimony from Professor Alan Hirsch, an expert in interrogations and false confessions. The court also ruled that Kincaid’s advisory-level sentence was appropriate.
In her appeal, Kincaid’s counsel argued the court was in error for not allowing Kincaid the opportunity to present further testimony from Hirsch. During the jury trial, Hirsch was asked about the Reid Technique, a process where investigators tell alleged suspects the results of the investigation clearly indicate they did commit the crime in question.
Kincaid’s appeal states the trial court improperly limited Hirsch’s testimony, which prevented Kincaid from presenting a full defense. In its opinion, the Court of Appeals stated in order for Kincaid to contend this claim, she would have to convince the Court that their holding in ‘Jimerson v. State’ either does not apply or breaks the court’s decision in ‘Miller vs. State.’
In both of those cases, the defendants argued through their appeals about the voluntariness of their statements and restricting testimony of specific witnesses.
Through ‘Miller,’ the Court of Appeals ruled in ‘Jimerson’ that “experts may testify on the general subjects of coercive police interrogation and false or coerced confessions and about the techniques the police used in a particular investigation.” However, the court states expert testimony moves from admissible to inadmissible when experts make comments about the specific interrogation in a way that the jury may view it as the expert’s opinion.
In the jury trial, the officers who interviewed Kincaid about her actions said they did not use the Reid Technique during their interviews.
“Given Kincaid’s testimony that she did not commit the crimes and her presentations of Dr. Hirsch as a defense witness, Dr. Hirsch’s potential testimony that the officers used the Reid Technique suggests Kincaid’s admissions were false — an opinion clearly prohibited by Evidence Rule 704(b),” read the opinion.
Evidence Rule 704(b) says witnesses may not testify to opinions concerning intent, guilt or innocence in a criminal case; or whether a witness has testified truthfully.
The Court says Kincaid’s sentence was not inappropriate, with Kincaid arguing she had no intent to kill Emma Grace and that about 50 people wrote letters in support of her. The opinion states intent was not recognized by the state in their ruling since she was not charged with murder and that leniency was already given since her sentences were ordered to be served concurrently versus consecutively.
“Kincaid left (Emma Grace) to suffer instead of seeking immediate medical attention,” read the opinion. “She lied repeatedly to police about the cause of the baby’s injuries. The trial court found, and Kincaid does not contest, that her lies exacerbated the suffering of the baby’s family.”
The opinion also states the events resulting in Emma Grace’s death reflect disturbing features of Kincaid’s character.
“On one hand, she was a first-time offender who had the respect and admiration of many in her community,” said the opinion. “Yet, her violence toward a defenseless baby, her willingness to delay urgently needed medical treatment while the child suffered from a life-threatening injury and her repeated lies to police reflect a questionable character undeserving of leniency.”