By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — Vickie L. Wooldridge, a woman who killed a man in Warsaw, is appealing her 94-year prison sentence to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Wooldridge was sentenced in Kosciusko Circuit Court on Sept. 2, 2022, for murder, a felony; attempted murder, a level 1 felony; aggravated battery and attempted criminal confinement, both level 3 felonies; and battery while armed with a deadly weapon, a level 5 felony. She was found guilty on all of these charges during a three-day jury trial in August 2022.
Wooldridge is currently serving her sentence at the Indiana Women’s Prison, with a projected release date of June 16, 2091.
On Dec. 15, 2020, law enforcement responded to a Warsaw residence on Westside Drive regarding a stabbing report. A woman at the home, Diane Burr, said Wooldridge had stabbed her husband, Bill Burr; and son, Matthew Lucas.
Lucas, 42, Warsaw, had multiple stab wounds to his neck, face and chest, and was pronounced dead at the scene. Bill was airlifted to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne for medical treatment.
A 21-page appellant’s brief was filed March 27 by local attorney Jay Rigdon, who is representing Wooldridge in her appeal. In the appeal, Wooldridge argues it was inappropriate for statements from Diane to be submitted as evidence during the trial, as Diane passed away two weeks after Lucas’s murder. Diane’s call to 911, and a video of officers speaking with Diane at the scene, were allowed as evidence.
At trial, Wooldridge’s counsel argued the statements were hearsay and objected to the admittance of the evidence in court, particularly since Diane could not be cross-examined about her statements.
The brief says the state admitted Diane’s statements were hearsay but that the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule applied. This rule is encapsulated in the Indiana Rule of Evidence rule 803(2), which states as follows:
“The following are not excluded by the rule against hearsay, regardless of whether the Declarant (Diane) is available as a witness…excited utterance: a statement relating to a startling event or condition, made while the Declarant (Diane) was under the stress of excitement that it caused.”
At trial, Wooldridge’s counsel objected to the admission of Diane’s statements and cited Crawford v. Washington as an example. In that case, it was ruled that out-of-court statements which are testimonial in nature and made by witnesses are barred under the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution, unless the witnesses are unavailable.
The brief argues the state did not have other testimony concerning Wooldridge’s behavior on Dec. 15, 2020, aside from Bill’s testimony.
“While (Bill) testified at trial that Diane was attacked or that she and Vickie had gotten in to it, (Bill) did not testify that he saw Vickie hit, strike, or batter Diane,” read the brief. “Without Diane’s testimony at trial in her video statement, testimony admitted without the opportunity for Wooldridge to cross-examine, the state would have had no evidence as to Counts IV and V, and a noticeably lower quantum of evidence as to Counts I or II.”
Wooldridge’s counsel also cited the case of Davis v. Washington at trial, which states the Supreme Court ruled a 911 call requesting immediate assistance as admissible but not testimonial in nature; however, the case also ruled statements given to law enforcement after a 911 call, when a witness was still at the scene, were not admissible based on the Confrontation Clause.
“Unless there is evidence that (Wooldridge) somehow participated in keeping (Diane) away from trial, Indiana caselaw does not shield the state from the application of the Confrontation Clause, and Davis v. Washington must still apply,” read the brief.
The brief further argues the trial court erred in failing to give the jury instruction requiring them to consider any reasonable theory of innocence in a case which relies primarily on circumstantial evidence.
At trial, the state objected to the instruction and sought to limit it by not referencing the reasonable theory of innocence. The court noted Wooldridge’s counsel’s objection but denied the proposed instruction.
“A ‘reasonable theory of innocence’ jury instruction is warranted when there is no significant direct evidence of (Wooldridge’s) guilt,” read the brief. “In this case, the State had no direct evidence of Vickie Wooldridge stabbing Matthew Lucas. William Burr did not see anything happen in the basement, and in fact would have been, according to his own testimony, unable to go to the basement bedroom where his son was to determine whether Matthew was there, Matthew and Vickie were there or Matthew and Vickie alone, or third parties were there.”
The brief also states Lucas’s blood on Wooldridge’s clothing is circumstantial evidence that something happened, but is not evidence by itself as to what occurred.
The brief argues the court should vacate Wooldridge’s convictions and remand the case back to the trial court for a new trial.