Murder trial in Indiana Grace Ross killing moves forward; procedural hurdles cleared

Flowers and candles are placed on a bench at Memorial Park in New Carlisle in honor of Grace Ross, the 6-year-old girl whose body was found in March 2021.
Flowers and candles are placed on a bench at Memorial Park in New Carlisle in honor of Grace Ross, the 6-year-old girl whose body was found in March 2021.

SOUTH BEND — Murder and child molestation proceedings will continue against 15-year-old Anthony Hutchens after St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Sanford denied the boy's request to dismiss the charges against him.

Anthony's attempt to dismiss the case was the latest move in a lengthy series of legal maneuverings dating back to the murder of 6-year-old Grace Ross in March 2021. With Sanford denying the motion to dismiss, the case appears headed for a bench trial as doctors evaluating the boy recently declared him competent.

Anthony, who was 14 at the time of the incident, was originally charged in probate, or juvenile, court with killing and molesting Grace in New Carlisle. Court documents say Anthony allegedly told police a "shadowy man" controlled him and made him strangle the girl. The case was waived to superior, or adult, court earlier this year.

That move was improper, lawyers for Anthony wrote, because St. Joseph Probate Court Magistrate Graham Polando's decision was "not supported by the testimony and conclusions of the experts appointed by the court."

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Anthony's motion focused on the reports of two doctors who had evaluated him last year as part of proceedings to determine the proper venue for the case. The doctors, the motion said, felt Anthony was not beyond rehabilitation in the juvenile system and therefore, Polando's decision to waive the case was not "valid and appropriate."

In opposing filings, chief deputy prosecutor Chris Fronk noted the probate judge had to consider the safety of the community, as well as the best interests of the child, when making waiver decisions.

"The fact that the defendant disagrees with the probate court's determination does not mean that the entire process was so fundamentally flawed that superior court jurisdiction … is improper," Fronk wrote.

In a ruling issued Friday, Sanford agreed with the state and found the decision to waive the case is valid and proceedings should continue in adult court.

"It appears that Hutchens wants to relitigate the issue of waiver already decided by the juvenile court. This Court declines to do so," Sanford's order read. At a hearing Monday, Jeffrey Kimmell, an attorney representing Anthony, said he planned to ask permission to file an appeal to Sanford's decision. However, Sanford indicated he would deny that request.

Case in adult court

Sanford's ruling also comes as experts evaluating Anthony declared him competent to stand trial, a significant step in the case.

Even when the case was in juvenile court, Anthony's ability to stand trial was at issue and he was given psychological evaluations in order to determine competency. At the request of Anthony's superior court lawyers, Sanford in May appointed two more doctors to conduct similar tests to determine his ability to stand trail.

At Monday's hearing, Sanford said both doctors who spoke with Anthony deemed him able to understand the proceedings and competent to stand trial.

Previous filings called for Sanford to preside over the trial, instead of a jury, though whether that will be the case is unclear.

Anthony listened to Monday's hearing over the phone from the Robert J. Kinsey Youth Center in Kokomo where he is currently being held. When asked if he understood he had waived his right to a trial by a jury, Anthony answered "I don't think I'm up for that kind of decision."

Anthony's attorneys and mother, however, indicated they had spoken to him about the topic and he had previously agreed to it.

Anthony is next due in court in mid-September.

Email Marek Mazurek at Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: New Carlisle murder case allowed to continue; Hutchens found competent