Jun. 10—INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction and six-year sentence of a man who molested a child while helping a pit crew at Anderson Speedway.
In a nine-page memorandum decision authored by Judge Leanna K. Weissmann and filed June 4, the appeals court ruled the jailhouse recordings to which Ryan M. Palmer objected were admissible, and there was sufficient evidence for conviction.
"Although this is a close case, we cannot say that no reasonable jury could find the elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt," the opinion said.
According to the appeals court's opinion, Palmer, then 22, and the family of the victim, then 11, who knew him her whole life, were members of a close-knit community that frequents the Speedway and its events.
On July 4, 2019, Palmer was helping with a pit crew and joined the family in the winner's circle after the race. While there, Palmer touched the girl in a way she told investigators made her feel uncomfortable but thought it was just an accident.
Later that same day, Palmer again touched the child, who this time reported she no longer believed it to be accidental.
The girl told her father about the incidents on the way home, and the father immediately contacted police. Palmer was charged with one count of felony child molest.
Following jury selection for the trial, Palmer's recorded phone calls from the Madison County Jail to two relatives revealed he was concerned about the testimony of his estranged wife and that she might say she was not with him the entire time they were at the racetrack.
"The next day, the State moved the entire recordings of the calls into evidence, arguing Palmer was attempting to influence his estranged wife's testimony," the opinion said.
However, Palmer asserted Madison County Circuit Court 1 Judge Angela Warner Sims abused her discretion by allowing the recording that starts with the announcement of his incarceration, which he argued could be as prejudicial to a jury as forcing a defendant to wear a prison jumpsuit in court proceedings.
The appeals court, however, ruled the recordings were outside the scope of harm cited in case law because they were unlikely to be a continuing influence on the jury, the appeals court ruled. Citing the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, of which Indiana is a part, the opinion said though the recordings may indicate Palmer had been in jail it did not provide a "constant and continuing" reminder.
"Although recordings of jailhouse telephone calls share some characteristics with prison garb — both indicate that a defendant is or was incarcerated and both are more likely to apply to indigent defendants, who are less likely to make bail — the comparison is ultimately inapt," the opinion said.
Palmer's attempt to influence witness testimony was relevant because it revealed a "consciousness of guilt," the opinion said.
"Any prejudice stemming from knowledge of Palmer's incarceration while awaiting trial was minimal compared to the probative nature of the recordings, which documented Palmer asking a relative to tell his estranged wife how to testify," the opinion said.
Palmer also argued the state presented no evidence he fondled the child, which he said requires a "lingering" touch. The appeals court, however, said this argument speaks to Palmer's perception prosecutors could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt whether the touching was intended to arouse or satisfy his sexual desires.
"This elements can be established through circumstantial evidence and inferred from the defendant's conduct and the 'natural and usual sequence to which such conduct usually points,'" the appeals court said.
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