By GARY POPP
Attorneys met Monday to discuss the ongoing case of two young men charged in the death of a Clarksville man found fatally shot in his home March 11.
Christopher Jared Sowders, 18, and Garreth Edward Stephens, 20, both of Borden, are scheduled to go to trail in early September for the murder of 48-year-old Steven Baldwin.
Perry McCall, of Jeffersonville, who is representing Sowders; Eric Weitzel, of New Albany, who is representing Stephens; and Clark County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Mull were present during the pretrial conference in the prosecutor’s office. Mull said the attorneys addressed issues of discovery and to make sure the trial occurs on a timely basis.
Along with the murder charge, Sowders and Stephens have each been charged with class A felony burglary, class B felony burglary, class A felony conspiracy to commit burglary and class B felony conspiracy to commit burglary.
Also discussed during the pretrial conference was the DNA, including possible materials found under Baldwin’s fingernails, collected from the crime scene. Mull said DNA taken from the home is being processed by the Indiana State Police and that the results have yet to be returned.
State police can take up to several months to return DNA findings, Mull said.
McCall said DNA evidence could show that his client was innocent before the trial begins, if the possible DNA taken from the fingernails matches that of someone other than Sowders.
TALKING AND TEXTING
An acquaintance of Sowders — who has stated he was originally going to take part in the burglary but pulled out only days before because the robbery conflicted with his school schedule — has provided statements implicating Sowders in the burglary and murder.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Sowders’ acquaintance told Clarksville police that he had a conversation with Sowders two days after Baldwin’s murder, at which time Sowders said he committed the murder at 2305 Plum Woods Drive in Clarksville, near the Sellersburg town line. The witness also told police that the day before the murder, he received several text messages from Sowders telling of plans to rob Baldwin’s home. According to the man’s statements to police, the texts he received included a list of materials, including a firearm, ski masks and zip ties, Sowders had in his possession to carry out the burglary.
Police reported black zip ties were found at the murder scene and collected as evidence.
One of the text read, “We are doing it Monday morning and the money is there,” according to the probable cause affidavit.
Documentation of those text messages is not in the possession of the prosecutor’s office.
“We are currently in the process of examining and processing all of the cell phones that were seized,” Mull said, adding that extracting information from a phone can be a lengthy process, and when data relevant to the case is gathered it will be immediately provided to defense attorneys. “With the evidence I have right now on the case, I feel confident that we will be able to convict both individuals that are charged with the crimes they are charged with,” he said.
Without that documentation, McCall said he believes the prosecution’s case against his client lacks substance.
“They talk about text messages that one of the kids said he received. As far as that being produced, I don’t have that,” he said. “I have not seen any physical proof of that, at this juncture.”
The witness also said he believes Stephens was with Sowders during the home break-in and murder.
According to the affidavit, after speaking with the witness, police received information from a Silver Creek High School student that Sowders had offered to sell the student a .25-caliber handgun for $265. The student had previously photographed the firearm, and the picture has been received by police.
Sowders’ acquaintance also told police he knew Sowders to carry the same type of firearm and was able to identify the firearm in the photograph as Sowders’ gun. The bullet recovered during Baldwin’s autopsy was the same caliber used in the firearm Sowders, reportedly, attempted to sell to the Silver Creek High School student.
Mull declined to comment on whether or not the firearm believed to have been used to kill Baldwin has been seized by police.
McCall said the man who has identified Sowders as a suspect in the case was himself a suspect in the incident.
“Their initial suspect has become the chief witness,” McCall said, adding that the witness appears to be pointing a finger at Sowders to deflect police from investigating him further.
Conversely, Mull said he believes the witness to be providing accurate and truthful information.
“We always evaluate whether a witness whom we’ve listed is going to be credible, [and whether] the information provided is going to be credible,” he said. “In this particular case, I believe the evidence we have collected is consistent with certain witness statements that have been given.”
McCall said he is developing a timeline of his client’s whereabouts during the murder, which he said could result in showing Sowders could not have been at the home at the time of the Baldwin’s death.
Weitzel’s law office was contacted for his contribution to this article, but the call was not returned.
Trials for both men are scheduled for Sept. 3.