News and Tribune

August 13, 2013

Judge clears court during hearing in Sellersburg murder case

Teen suspects seek bond modification

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — Clark County Judge Vicki Carmichael cleared more than 30 people from her courtroom Monday after they disrupted a bond modification hearing of two teenagers facing murder charges.

Christopher Jared Sowders, 18, and Garreth Edward Stephens, 19, both of Borden, have each been charged with murder, burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary, and both face up to 135 years in prison.

The men have been incarcerated in the Micheal L. Becher Adult Correctional Complex with no bond since March 21, ten days after Steven Baldwin, 48, was found shot to death in his Plum Woods Drive home, which has a Sellersburg mailing address.

Carmichael demanded all of the men’s family and friends and others seated in the gallery area to leave the courtroom after the group loudly laughed in unison as Sowders’ attorney, Perry McCall, questioned — at times aggressively — Clarksville Police Department’s Jeff Kennedy, the investigation’s lead detective.

Due to time constraints, Carmichael ended the hearing and scheduled it to restart at 9 a.m. today.

The disruption came after McCall appeared to reveal inadequacies of the investigation during an exchange with Kennedy.

While McCall, and Stephens’ attorney, Eric Weitzel, questioned Kennedy, it appeared the state has no physical evidence implicating Sowders or Stephens of the murder.

McCall referred to the case as a “Salem witch hunt all over,” and said it’s based on hearsay.

“There is no physical evidence at this time,” McCall said. “No DNA. No fingerprint information. No gunshot powder reside.”

According to the probable cause affidavit, which led to the teenagers’ arrests, a man, who was an initial suspect of the murder but who has not been charged, told investigators that Sowders had told him he killed Baldwin and sent him text messages related to the burglary and murder, but those texts have not been retrieved from anyone’s cell phones.

That same man later told investigators he deleted the messages from his phone.

“There are no text messages,” McCall said. “They [Sowders and Stephens] have been arrested on the statement of a suspect that was going into custody who says that my client told him face-to-face that ‘I shot this person.’ That is what they are holding my client on.”

McCall said it’s “very strange” that the men have been in jail for nearly five months on statements made by a man who was once a police suspect of the murder.

Through Weitzel’s and McCall’s questioning of Kennedy, it was determined that of the 18 items of evidence sent for testing and more than 4,000 pages of cell phone records, none of the items linked either suspect to the crime scene.

Check newsandtribune.com and print editions for additional coverage of today’s bond modification hearing.