By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed Vickie L. Wooldridge’s 94-year prison sentence.
During a three-day jury trial in August 2022, Wooldridge, 46, 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 after she was convicted for murdering Matthew Lucas in Warsaw in December 2020.
In an appeal, Wooldridge requested the Court of Appeals vacate her convictions and remand the case back to Kosciusko Circuit Court for a new trial.
A 16-page memorandum decision filed by the Court of Appeals on June 26 states that even though the trial court abused its discretion by not allowing a proposed instruction to the jury from Wooldridge, the state presented enough evidence to prove Wooldridge murdered Lucas.
Wooldridge argued it was inappropriate for statements Diane Burr made 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. Burr, Lucas’s mother, was attacked by Wooldridge after Lucas’s murder. In the appeal, Wooldridge said Burr’s statements were inadmissible at trial since she did not have the opportunity to cross-examine Burr.
In its memorandum, the Court says Burr’s initial statements in a 911 call about the attack are non-testimonial in nature.
“Diane made the statements unprompted while suffering from the shock of the attack, and she made the statements not to establish evidence for trial but to obtain emergency assistance for her husband,” said the memorandum.
Diane’s husband and Lucas’s stepfather, Bill Burr, was severely injured by Wooldridge after Lucas’s murder.
The Court further states Wooldridge’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was not violated at trial through the admission of Diane’s non-testimonial statements. It also says Diane’s statement to Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Justin Smith shortly after the attack did not violate Wooldridge’s rights.
“The officer’s questions were not designed to preserve evidence for trial but to ascertain whether the danger to Diane, her family, and the community at large had resolved,” states the memorandum.
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.
The trial court instead gave a direction on defining direct and circumstantial evidence, informing the jury a conviction could be based on either type of evidence.
At trial, Bill testified Wooldridge and Lucas were in a basement together prior to Lucas’s murder.
“This is direct evidence placing Wooldridge at the crime scene at the precise time and place of Lucas’ murder,” read the memorandum.
However, the Court of Appeals argued the trial court abused its discretion by refusing to allow Wooldridge’s proposed instruction to the jury. In its memorandum, the Court discussed DNA evidence discovered on the knives used to stab Lucas. Wooldridge’s DNA was found on the knives, and Lucas’s DNA was found on her clothing.
“This evidence is also direct evidence, but only that Wooldridge had touched the knives used to stab Lucas and that she was present when Lucas was stabbed,” read the memorandum. “None of the direct evidence established that Wooldridge was the person who actually stabbed Lucas.”
But the Court ruled the trial court’s error was harmless to Wooldridge’s case, arguing the state presented overwhelming evidence showing Wooldridge murdered Lucas.
“The State proved that she was in the basement when he was stabbed, his blood covered her clothing, she fled from the scene, and she removed most of her bloody clothing after leaving Lucas’s home,” states the memorandum. “Before fleeing the home, she also stabbed Bill and attacked Diane.”
On Dec. 15, 2020, law enforcement responded to a Warsaw residence on Westside Drive regarding a stabbing report. Diane said Wooldridge had stabbed Bill and 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.