GOSHEN — A jury will decide this week whether Stacey Huddleston is, indeed, guilty as an accessory in the murder of 15-year-old Shannon Goins back in late 2004 west of downtown Elkhart.
Goins was brutally stabbed by Huddleston’s cousin, Ronald White, Huddleston testified. White was convicted in his and Huddleston’s trial in 2005.
Huddleston pleaded guilty then, but last year the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled, “Here, despite professing that he wanted to plead guilty to murder, Huddleston quite clearly and unequivocally stated during the factual basis colloquy that he did not intend for S.G. to be killed, nor did he know or anticipate that White would kill S.G.”
The three-judge appeals panel also ruled that to convict Huddleston, “there must be evidence that the defendant knowingly or intentionally aided, induced, or caused another person to commit that offense,” in this case murder.
Prosecutors have to convince a jury in Elkhart Circuit Court that Huddleston knew he was helping in Shannon’s murder. That could be a tough job, though.
In late December 2004, Huddleston got a call from his cousin, White, saying that White’s apartment had been burglarized. Huddleston’s PlayStation 2 was stolen in the break-in, and the two believed Shannon did it.
Huddleston testified he wanted to get revenge by beating Shannon up, since Huddleston was still 17 at the time and wouldn’t get in serious trouble for fighting with a 15-year-old.
He invited Shannon back to White’s apartment, then the three of them left. White whispered to Huddleston, telling him to go back upstairs and get White’s knife.
Huddleston figured that was a good idea, that they could scare Shannon into admitting to the break-in. “I really thought he was going to use it just to scare him. I thought it would be the best thing, rather than me beating him up,” Huddleston said at the trial in 2005.
As they walked, White hit Goins with a pop can, then they held him up against a garage. “That’s when the knife was pulled out,” Huddleston said. Goins ran. So did the cousins.
They caught up to the fleeing boy and White took Shannon behind a house, Huddleston testified.
There, White held Shannon against a wall. “I ran over there to try to get the answer ... to fight,” Huddleston told the jury. “That’s when that blood spurted on me. I seen how it shot up,” he said. He saw the knife in his cousin’s hand and ran away, scared.
Huddleston pleaded guilty at his and White’s trial after seeing the autopsy photos, showing how Shannon suffered a dozen knife wounds, some as deep as five inches. “I seen the wounds, it hit my heart. I felt guilty,” he told the jury.
“I should have taken responsibility since day one,” he said at the time. During his guilty plea hearing, Huddleston turned to Shannon’s family. “I’m sorry what happened to your son, your family member. If I could’ve stopped it, I would’ve. I was scared, too,” he said.
As he pleaded guilty, he told Judge Terry Shewmaker, “I really didn’t think my cousin Ronald was capable of doing that.” He called it the biggest surprise in his life.
Shewmaker told him, “I’m not going to accept your plea of guilty unless you tell me you knowingly participated in the killing of Mr. Goins. Did you knowingly participate in the killing of Mr. Goins?”
Huddleston replied, “Yeah. I was there. Yes, sir. I was there, yes, sir.”
Shewmaker persisted, “I’ll try it one more time with you, Mr. Huddleston. Are you telling me you’re guilty of this offense of murder as charged?”
Huddleston said, “Yes, sir.”
Huddleston appealed the 50-year sentence given to him by Shewmaker, but the appeals court upheld the sentence, which is only five years more than the minimum for murder.
In 2010 Huddleston filed a petition to have his guilty plea overturned, arguing it wasn’t knowing or voluntary.
According to last year’s ruling by the appeals court, the Indiana Supreme Court set up a rule in the state that if a person pleads guilty and protests their innocence at the same time, the guilty plea isn’t valid. “And after reviewing the record, we are compelled to conclude that the rule was violated here. In order to convict a defendant of a crime under an accomplice theory of liability, there must be evidence that the defendant knowingly or intentionally aided, induced, or caused another person to commit that offense,” they wrote.
“With specific respect to this case, to convict Huddleston as White’s accomplice in the murder of S.G., there needed to be evidence that White killed S.G., and that Huddleston knowingly or intentionally aided and abetted White in killing S.G., which in turn required proof that Huddleston knew or intended that S.G. would be killed,” they wrote.
They continued, “Here, despite professing that he wanted to plead guilty to murder, Huddleston quite clearly and unequivocally stated during the factual basis colloquy that he did not intend for S.G. to be killed, nor did he know or anticipate that White would kill S.G.”
If jurors don’t find enough evidence to declare Huddleston guilty, the now-24-year-old could go free after morwe than seven years in custody.
If they find him guilty, he faces up to 65 years in prison.
Because Shewmaker has judicial duties out of town for part of this week, Judge George Biddlecome will fill in for him and handle the trial and possible sentencing.