Elkhart man struggles to hear during court proceedings

·6 min read

Aug. 12—GOSHEN — An Elkhart man attended court remotely for an initial hearing on a charge of aggravated battery and a probation violation, but concerns with the meeting began to arise quickly.

Judge Michael Christofeno noticed Lincoln Leuchtner, 25, wasn't responding to his initial questioning and when he inquired to the guard on duty at the jail as to why, Leuchtner informed the guard that he was deaf.

Leuchtner was arrested Aug. 3 in connection with a stabbing Aug. 2 at Walmart, 175 C.R. 6 West, Elkhart. Police were called at 8:33 a.m. that morning in reference to a stabbing that occurred.

The victim, a Walmart employee, was outside the entrance of the store bleeding from the back of his head. The employee told police that he was walking from his car into the store, when a man approached him asking for help. During the conversation, the man pulled out a machete and struck him and then fled south on a green bike, the probable cause affidavit states.

A bystander approached the responding officer during the investigation and gave him a backpack they said the suspect lost in the parking lot. In the backpack was a birth certificate for Leuchtner and from that, the officer was able to locate a BMV photograph.

Walmart loss prevention employees identified the suspect on a surveillance camera just prior to the assault. Police apprehended Leuchtner near Cassopolis Street and North Drive in Elkhart, not far from Walmart and brought him to the police station for questioning.

The probable cause affidavit also indicates that Leuchtner was released from prison July 28 for an armed robbery conviction in 2015. In that case, Leuchtner, 18 at the time, and Daveontae White, 19 at the time, were arrested after police said they held up 7-Eleven, 3601 Cassopolis St., Elkhart, at 2:17 a.m. April 23, 2015. He was sentenced on Sept. 24, 2015, with nine years, jail credit of 154 days, and one year suspended, and a year of probation, served consecutive to a probation violation for a prior sentence of illegal consumption of alcohol.

During that sentence for that conviction, court documents indicated that Leuchtner attempted to be released early several times, but was denied due to a "history of conduct violations while incarcerated" at Miami County Correctional Facility. At the time of the Aug. 2 attack, Leuchtner was still on probation for the robbery charge, records show.

During the initial hearing, Christofeno asked Leuchtner if there was anything he wanted to say to the court, noting that statements could be used against him. The jail guard told Leuchtner, "He's going to let you talk, but he's giving you the opportunity to talk to your attorney before you talk to him."

"I want to talk to him first," Leuchtner responded. "I need to — I have to."

It is unclear if he was referring to the judge or to someone else, because Leuchtner then began what appeared to be a prayer, wherein he called upon "America" to do "everything I tell you to do," the meaning of which was unclear.

Christofeno interrupted the prayer, which continued for at least five minutes. He informed Leuchtner that a public defender would be appointed for him, and a jury trial is currently scheduled for Feb. 20, 2023. He also noted to the court that the defendant will require an interpreter. When asked what form of communication Leuchtner would prefer, Leuchtner, still praying, said "I don't need sign language — I'm trying to tell you something from God. It is very important."

Christofeno urged public defender Matthew Johnson to visit Leuchtner as soon as possible.

—A murder suspect was granted a third continuance on his trial date. Christofeno acknowledged to Johnson and defendant Austin Bowlin, 37, that continuances are common, but informed him that Johnson's preferred month of November would not be possible as he already has several other murder jury trials scheduled for November and plans at least four days to a week for each.

Bowlin is accused with the murder of Jeffrey Crapo, 32, of March 2020.

According to the charging affidavit, after shooting him, Bowlin drove around with Crapo's body in a car to various locations in Indiana and Michigan and at one point, forced a witness to ride with him for part three-day-journey. Crapo's body was disposed of by the car being set on fire outside of Jackson, Mich. March 4.

Bowlin was initially taken into custody in Michigan where he was charged with arson and mutilation of a corpse, pleading no contest in August. The trial was continued to Feb. 20, 2022.

—An Elkhart man accused of shooting his father in late 2020 refused to attend court on Thursday, corrections officer Zachary Novak told Christofeno.

Dominique Edwards, 27, is accused of shooting and injuring his father, Anthony Shaw, while at Shaw's home along the 1600 block of Stevens Avenue in Elkhart on Nov. 20, 2020.

According to court records, while visiting the home, witnesses said Edwards grabbed a pillow, went to Shaw's bedroom and fired a gun through the pillow at him. Prior to the shooting, witnesses described Edwards as acting strangely and possibly being on drugs.

In Edward's stead at the court conference, Christopher Peterson of the Elkhart County Public Defender's office filed a motion to withdraw the competency evaluation, believing competency to stand trial had been restored. However, he also filed a notice of insanity, indicating that Edwards may have been insane at the time of the incident. The state did not object to evaluations, and two doctors were appointed. The trial was also rescheduled to Feb. 20, 2023.

—Jake Brunette's competency evaluations are in and they differ. The first was scheduled in February, but took several months to come in.

Brunette is charged with killing Andrew Conley, 23, Nov. 17, 2021, after police responded to a call from a man who'd said he'd been stabbed during a fight at Monarch Mobile Home Park in the 2300 block of Cassopolis Street around 7:55 a.m. After giving him first aid at the scene, medics began transporting the man to a local hospital, but he died enroute.

Brunette's court-appointed public defender, Johnson, told the court in February that Brunette has a history of long stints in in-patient therapy for both mental health and drug issues.

His two competency exams resulted in split opinions, and as a result, the court appointed a third evaluation. The jury trial remains scheduled for Feb. 6, 2023.