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Man Convicted Of Murdering Jill Behrman To Be Released

Headshot of John Myers.

John Myers was found guilty of the murder of IU student and Bloomington native Jill Behrman in 2006. (Courtesy of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office)

A federal judge has ordered the man convicted of killing Bloomington resident Jill Behrman to be released.

U.S. District Court Judge James R. Sweeney of the Southern District of Indiana wrote in his ruling Monday that John Myers received ineffective counsel from attorney Patrick Baker at his trial.

In the 147-page ruling, Sweeney writes, “Most notably, Mr. Myers’ counsel made false statements to the jury during opening arguments which counsel admitted to the Indiana Supreme Court in a subsequent attorney disciplinary proceeding. He also failed to object to two significant categories of evidence that should not have been presented to the jury. In the end, these serious errors all but destroyed the defense that trial counsel presented to the jury and tainted the entire trial.”

Behrman grew up in Bloomington and was an IU student when she disappeared on a bike ride May 31, 2000.

Police homed in on some suspects and drained Salt Creek in Monroe County after one of them confessed. But no body was found there and no one was charged at that time.

In 2003, her remains were found far from Salt Creek in a field in Morgan County.

In March 2006, a grand jury convened in Morgan County to look into the case, and in April of that year, Myers was charged with the murder. He had not been one of the earlier suspects.

In his ruling, Sweeney pointed to several times Myers received ineffective counsel.

The ruling says Baker “undermined all three of Mr. Myers’ defenses,” including contradicting theories about the previous suspects which could have led to “reasonable doubt.”

It also says “trial counsel allowed the State to bolster the credibility of its most important witness, who had significant credibility problems.” This was a witness who suggested Myers could have a motive to kill Behrman.

Finally, he wrote that “trial counsel’s errors cast a prejudicial cloud over the entire trial.” And he wrote the errors “left Mr. Myers without even a tenable defense.

“…Trial counsel’s cumulative errors not only left him without a defense, but they also allowed the State to create evidence of a motive when there otherwise was none and bolster the credibility of arguably the State’s most important witness who had significant credibility issues.”

The ruling went on:

“In short, the Court concludes that trial counsel’s errors were ‘so serious’ that Mr. Myers was deprived of a trial ‘whose result is reliable.’”

Myers is being held in Michigan City at the Indiana State Prison.

Morgan County prosecutor Steve Sonnega has 120 days to decide whether to appeal Judge Sweeney's ruling. In a statement Sonnega says he plans to meet with the victims and the investigator before making that decision. 

"I have been in contact with the victim’s parents, Eric and Marilyn Behrman, as well as the lead investigator, Detective (Ret.) Rick Lang," Sonnega wrote in the statement. "Needless to say, we are all disappointed with this outcome as believed that after 13 years, the jury’s guilty verdict was final. I have spoken with the Indiana Attorney’s General’s Office and they are just analyzing the opinion and its ramifications. Thus, it is premature to discuss the next step in the case.  

"A new trial will likely come only at considerable cost—to the State, yes, but, more important, to the victim’s family and community still wounded by their tragic loss," writes Judge James Sweeney. "Such costs do not enter into the constitutional analysis; and yet, the Court cannot help but express its empathy for those who must bear them for the sake of our Constitution and its protections."

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