MICHIGAN CITY — After months of postponing in-person court appearances because of the pandemic, jury trials are set to resume on Monday in La Porte Superior Court 1.
Up first will be Brandon Bottom, a 26-year-old man accused of killing his infant son in 2019, and then attempting to solicit a gang member to kill two of the witnesses against him.
Bottom appeared via Zoom video conference from the La Porte County Jail last week for his final pre-jury conference.
With jury selection set to begin in person at 8 a.m. on Aug. 3, attorneys for both the state and defense worked with the judge to iron out the details.
During Bottom’s hearing on July 23, Judge Michael Bergerson ruled that expert witnesses will be allowed to testify via Zoom if necessary.
The following day, the state and defense filed a joint motion that the trial not be livestreamed so as to maintain a separation of the witnesses, to keep people from being able to testify after having watched part of the trial.
Bergerson granted the motion, meaning the court must be open to the public throughout the trial.
However, only six spectators will be allowed inside the courtroom at a time, as that’s all that can be accommodated given the social distancing guidelines, which will have jurors seated 6 feet apart throughout the jury box and gallery.
Jury selection will occur in three phases of 25 people at a time on Monday; and the trial will begin Tuesday.
Bottom is charged with Level 1 felony counts of aggravated battery and neglect of a dependent resulting in death, and a Level 2 felony count of battery resulting in death to a child younger than 14 stemming from the Feb. 5, 2019, death of his 8-week-old son.
He also faces a Level 2 felony count of conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly attempting to have a member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang murder the baby’s mother and her brother, both of whom are expected to testify against Bottom.
Bottom’s infant son was rushed to the emergency room at Franciscan Health Michigan City on Feb. 1, 2019, presenting as “very pale with shallow breathing and unable to open his eyes,” according to the La Porte County Sheriff’s Department.
Upon inspection, hospital staff determined the baby had sustained a brain bleed; swelling of the brain; a dilated, unresponsive left pupil; and bruising along the right side of his body – injuries “consistent with the shaking of a baby,” the probable cause affidavit states.
The baby was airlifted to the University of Chicago Medicine – Comer Children’s Hospital, where he died four days later.
During autopsy, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office discovered the baby had a recently broken rib, as well as multiple other rib fractures in various stages of healing.
His cause of death was listed as “closed head injuries due to blunt force trauma;” manner of death as “homicide.”
According to the probable cause affidavit, Bottom’s 6-year-old daughter and Bottom’s girlfriend’s 10-year-old brother provided forensic interviews indicating both had witnessed Bottom behave abusively toward the baby.
Each of the Level 2 felonies Bottom faces carries a potential sentence of 20-40 years in the Indiana Department of Correction; and the Level 2 felonies are punishable by 10-30 years apiece.
As he awaits the resolution of his case, Bottom remains in lockup at the La Porte County Jail on a cash-only bond of $100,000.
MICHIGAN CITY — Due to the tough economic times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Michigan City Police Department has been having difficulty funding the more than $8,000 needed to train its K-9 Axel and his new handler.
So it’s looking to the public for help.
According to the MCPD, K-9 Officer Mike Petrie, who partners with a different K9, Edo, has taken the initiative to reinstitute the MCPD K-9 Calendar Fundraiser to help Axel get a new partner. Petrie has been personally traveling to businesses within Michigan City and selling a business card sized advertisement space on the 2021 MCPD K-9 Calendar for $200, the MCPD said. The MCPD has 49 advertisement spaces to sell and all profits will go to help fund the training of MCPD’s new K-9 handler.
Once the advertisement spaces are filled, the 2021 calendars will be printed and available for next year.
According to the MCPD, this fundraiser was necessitated because Axel’s current handler, Corporal Mike Oberle, was unable to continue in his role, so the department has had to begin the process of selecting a new one. But certifying a new handler will cost the department more than $8,000.
The MCPD currently has two K-9s: Edo and Axel. Edo is a 1-year-old Belgium Malinois that was born in Poland. Edo is certified in the detection of illegal drugs, tracking, criminal apprehension, and article/area searches.
Axel is a 4-year-old German Shepherd born in Hungary. He is also certified in the detection of illegal drugs, tracking, criminal apprehension, and article/area searches.
The 2021 K-9 Calendar will be put together by Scotty’s Dynamic Designs.
MCPD will also be accepting monetary donations from businesses and the public to assist with K-9 training, K-9 demonstrations, K-9 health and wellness, and the future purchase of additional K-9s. Anyone wishing to donate to this cause can drop off or mail a check or money order to:
Michigan City Police Department
Attn: K9 Donation Fund
1201 E. Michigan Blvd. Michigan City, IN 46360
To ensure the funds are placed into the correct account, the MCPD wants you to write “K-9 Donation Fund” in the memo section of your check/money order. The department said 100 percent of donations that are properly marked for the K-9 Donation Fund will be used for the MCPD K-9 program.
Any businesses wishing to purchase an advertisement space on the 2021 MCPD K-9 Calendar should email K-9 Officer Petrie at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone with questions about the 2021 MCPD K-9 Calendar or how to make donations to the MCPD K9 Donation Fund can call 219-874-3221 and speak with Sergeant Cisco Rodriguez at Ext: 1062 or Cpl. Mike King at Ext: 1045.
LA PORTE — A homeless Michigan City man accused of killing his grandmother and stealing her car will face a jury in La Porte Circuit Court beginning Monday.
Anthony Lavell Carter Jr., 28, faces counts of murder, felony murder, robbery, aggravated battery and theft stemming from the 2019 death of 75-year-old Beulah C. Biege.
La Porte City Police say Carter struck Biege in the face and head “resulting in brain swelling, coma and eventual death.”
The alleged attack occurred on Feb. 28, 2019; but Biege’s obituary states she did not succumb to her injuries until March 10, 2019.
Carter also is alleged to have stolen Biege’s 2003 Jeep Liberty after attacking her.
As he awaits his trial, Carter remains incarcerated on a cash-only bond of $250,000 at the La Porte County Jail.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin in La Porte Circuit Court at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Carter’s murder trial will be the first jury trial to occur there since March.
Judge Thomas Alevizos said Friday that public health and safety is of utmost concern during the global pandemic.
He said potential jurors can expect some changes in protocol as the court works to maintain social distancing guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19.
For example, all people to enter the courthouse will be subject to coronavirus screening and must wear face masks while inside, Alevizos said.
From there, the jury pool will be split into two groups, with some positioned inside the courtroom and others in the annex building watching via live feed.
Once the jury has been selected, jurors will use the courtroom to congregate instead of the normal jury room, as the latter does not allow enough space for proper social distancing.
Jurors and witnesses will be provided with face shields to wear during the trial so that face masks do not hinder the process.
To further accommodate a more spread-out jury, the court will use an 82-inch television screen to make sure everyone is able to see the witness stand.
And the trial will be broadcast live in a separate room for any spectators from the public who wish to observe.
“There’s a lot of different accommodations we’re making – the whole point is social distancing,” Alevizos said.
“We’re asking people to come and do their civic duty; so as judges we wanted to make sure we’re taking every precaution … and that there aren’t any negative health consequences to the whole process.
“But we need to get on with trials because people have been sitting in jail all this time, and they have a right to trial.”
MICHIGAN CITY — Washington Park will remain closed through Aug. 13, after the Michigan City Common Council voted unanimously on Thursday to extend the mayor’s executive order, which otherwise would have expired at midnight on Friday.
Mayor Duane Parry issued the order on July 23, ordering that no vehicular or pedestrian traffic would be allowed inside Washington park, including at the beach, North Pointe Pavilion, Michigan City Senior Center, Washington Park Zoo, Fedder’s Alley or any other parking lot or grassy area inside the park.
It was Parry’s response to recent spikes in COVID-19 diagnoses at the local and regional levels.
“I’m halfheartedly going to support this,” said Councilman Paul Przybylinski. “… I think if we’re going to close the beaches that we should close all of them, for everybody.”
He was referring to the fact that Stops 2-13 at Sheridan Beach remain open to the public, as they are not mentioned in the executive order.
But Council President Sean Fitzpatrick said it was not within the council’s authority to amend an order issued by the mayor, that it could only be accepted or rejected as it’s written.
“What I wanted the very first time around was to have [Stops] 2-13 closed,” Councilman Bryant Dabney said. “But it was voted down, so this is why we have what we have now.”
Fitzpatrick said the council could have amended its resolution on whether to approve or reject an extension of the mayor’s executive order, but that no council member had submitted any written amendments to the clerk between Tuesday’s workshop and Thursday’s special meeting.
“I don’t know how anything can happen if we can’t come to a consensus as to what happens,” he said. “We’re more concerned with the particulars of how it gets executed and who’s going to pay for it or where is the manpower coming from. That’s not our job; that’s the administration’s job. Ours is to set the policy, and the executive has to work the details out.”
Przybylinski read from a letter he said a local resident submitted to him: “Please come together as the representatives of the city to work together to make us look our very best and to do what is the best for every resident of this city.”
Councilman Michael Mack acknowledged the seeming unfairness of allowing segments of the population to access Lake Michigan and not others, via the marina and Sheridan Beach.
“It would be nice if we were able to allow our residents, or at least the sticker-holders, to be able to enjoy ... what two pieces populations are going to continue to enjoy,” he said. “That’s the lens that I look at it through; that our inability to handle this situation totally, from the marina to Stop 2 and farther, is what’s creating this disparity of lake usage.”
Councilman Don Przybylinski said he walked down to Stop 7 and drove through Beachwalk in order to see what’s going on down there for himself.
While doing so, he counted approximately 190 out-of-state license plates.
Using the rule of assuming 3.5 passengers per vehicle as relayed by Parks Department Superintendent Ed Shinn during Tuesday’s workshop, it means as many as 700 or more non-residents are using the beach in addition to locals, Don Przybylinski said.
Mack said that because other municipalities between Michigan City and Chicago have closed their beaches, it’s natural that those people would come here for lake access.
“I respect all of these visitors coming to Michigan City,” Mack said. “I think we should be able to capture more of that income, entrepreneurially. I really don’t want to make this an us-against-them deal. We’ve just got to get ready – Parks Department and a lot of other areas of the city – to address this new dynamic that’s not going away.”
Paul Przybylinski said he wants to see the council come up with an ordinance in which specific pandemic-related rules for use and attendance at Washington Park and Sheridan Beach are outlined, as well as fines determined for those who violate the ordinance.
“I don’t know why we’re not getting tough about it because it’s not going to go away,” he said.
One such ordinance was supposed to have been read on second reading Thursday, but Paul Przbybylinski, its author, asked that it be tabled for three council meetings to allow for amendments to be made.
The council voted unanimously to table it and make adjustments before the ordinance returns to the agenda in September.