By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — The State of Indiana has filed a brief with the Indiana Court of Appeals in response to Vickie L. Wooldridge’s sentence appeal.
Wooldridge, 46, is appealing her 94-year prison sentence after she was convicted for murdering Matthew Lucas in December 2020 in Warsaw.
During a three-day jury trial in August 2022, Wooldridge was found guilty of 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.
Wooldridge is currently serving her sentence at the Indiana Women’s Prison, with a projected release date of June 16, 2091.
In her appellant’s brief, Wooldridge requested the Court of Appeals vacate her convictions and remand the case back to Kosciusko Superior Court One for a new trial.
A 25-page appellee’s brief, filed on April 26 by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and Deputy Attorney General Steven Hosler, argues for the admittance of statements from Diane Burr as evidence, and states the trial court did not err by not giving the jury further instruction on circumstantial evidence.
Wooldridge argued it was inappropriate for Burr’s statements in a 911 call and to law enforcement to be submitted as evidence during the trial, as Burr passed away two weeks after Lucas’s murder.
The state argues the admittance of Burr’s statements as evidence did not violate Wooldridge’s right through the Sixth Amendment to confront her accuser. In the Sixth Amendment, statements by witnesses who do not testify at a trial may run afoul of the amendment “when the contested statement is a testimonial statement by a non-testifying witness, unless the witness is unavailable to testify, and the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination.”
However, the brief says Burr’s statements during the initial 911 call about the attack are non-testimonial in nature; Burr was speaking unprompted and in the background during her neighbor’s conversation with the 911 dispatcher.
“At one point, the neighbor told the 911 operator that they needed an ambulance because there was a woman stabbing people,” read the brief. “The operator responded by repeating the neighbor’s words and then, unprompted, Diane said that ‘she stabbed my husband and son.’ These statements were not taken for a testimonial purpose but were made during the operator’s attempts to address the ongoing emergency and determine what resources to deploy in response to the emergency.”
The brief also argues Burr’s statement to Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Justin Smith shortly after the attack was also non-testimonial.
“(Officer) Smith’s questions were geared toward discovering who the attacker was, what the attacker was wearing, whether anyone else was located in Diane’s house, and whether Wooldridge might still be located on the property,” states the brief. “While Diane started to provide a narrative of events that might have veered into the testimonial, (Officer) Smith prevented her from doing so at times by telling her to take a deep breath, asking her what Wooldridge was wearing, and discussing whether Wooldridge might still be in the house or on the property.”
The state further elaborates that physical evidence presented at trial was sufficient enough for the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt Wooldridge murdered Lucas. It also states testimony from Bill Burr, who told the jury Wooldridge stabbed him and witnessed Wooldridge attack Diane, was sufficient to prove Wooldridge committed the crimes she was charged with.
“Even if Diane’s statements were admitted in error, it would be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt as there was other, properly admitted evidence such that the jury would have found Wooldridge guilty absent the contested evidence,” read the brief.
Wooldridge also argued the trial court abused its discretion by not telling jury members to consider any reasonable theory of innocence in a case which relies primarily on circumstantial evidence. She further argued prosecution had no direct evidence she stabbed Lucas.
“The trial court properly rejected Wooldridge’s proposed instruction because there was direct proof of all of her criminal offenses,” argued the state in its response to Wooldridge’s appeal.
The state referenced a knife Wooldridge used to stab Bill, with DNA evidence connecting the knife to Lucas, Bill, and Wooldridge.
“The DNA evidence was direct evidence that Wooldridge murdered Lucas,” stated the brief.
The appellee’s brief further argues Wooldridge wearing clothing with Lucas’s blood on it upon her arrest, and Bill hearing a commotion prior to Lucas’s murder, are direct evidence Wooldridge committed the crime.
“The State presented sufficient evidence from which this Court can say with complete confidence that a reasonable jury would have rendered a guilty verdict if there was no direct evidence of Wooldridge’s guilt,” read the brief.
The brief asks the Court of Appeals to affirm the trial court’s judgment.