Judge denies prosecutor's calls for recusal in case against accused IMPD officer shooter

Update: On April 6, Judge Mark Stoner denied the prosecutor's office request that he withdraw from the case. In his order, he argued the prosecutor's contentions are not grounds for recusal.

"These are disagreements on legal issues and not evidence of bias or prejudice," Stoner wrote.

Original article: Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears has asked for the judge presiding over the case of a man charged in the 2020 killing of Indianapolis police officer Breann Leath to be recused, raising arguments of “bias and prejudice.”

Mears in his motion, filed Monday, raised doubts about the impartiality of Marion Superior Judge Mark Stoner following comments made during a March 17 hearing discussing the dismissal of the death penalty in the case.

The prosecutor’s office requested the death penalty against Leath’s accused killer, Elliahs Dorsey, in Jan. 2021, on the basis that Leath was “acting in the course of her official duty as a law enforcement officer,” when killed, according to court documents.

Leath, 24, was killed after responding to a domestic violence call in the 1800 block of Edinburgh Square on April 9, 2020. Dorsey is accused of firing shots through the door that struck her.

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Dorsey’s attorney previously asked the court to dismiss the death penalty, arguing prosecutors – referred to as the State in court records – could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew Leath was an officer at the time of the gunshots.

According to Mears’ motion, Stoner raised concerns during the hearing whether or not prosecutors have evidence to show Dorsey knew Leath was a police officer at the time shots were fired. Stoner further noted, according to records, he’s concerned about the state using the death penalty as leverage for a plea bargain, arguing it could create ethical problems.

“I believe that you cannot file a death penalty uh, without having sufficient evidence, you cannot file it, uh, without evidence and then use it in any way as a plea negotiation tool. I believe that creates, I believe that creates real ethical problems,” Stoner said, according to court records.

Mears responded in his motion that prosecutors intended to reserve their evidence for a jury at trial, not during the early stages of the case. According to Mears’ filing, Stoner responded he wanted to handle the issue now.

“You may never get to that point, on a death penalty issue if I don’t have it now,” Stoner said in court records.

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Mears argued the court’s comments toward their death penalty request has prejudiced the prosecutor’s ability to pursue the case. He also raised concerns that the comments served as an “enticement” for prosecutors to dismiss their death penalty request to avoid an ethics complaint.

“The Court’s potential referral of an ethics complaint has prejudiced the State’s ability to prosecute this case to completion – either through trial or plea negotiations – without fear of reprisal through a possible referral to the Disciplinary Commission,” Mears concludes in his motion. “Recusal is therefore necessary.”

Contact Sarah Nelson at 317-503-7514 or sarah.nelson@indystar.com

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Judge denies calls for recusal in Breann Leath's accused killer's case