COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) — A judge told a county prosecutor he wants to know by Feb. 20 whether the death penalty will be sought against a man charged with killing four people inside a southern Indiana home last year.
Bartholomew County Judge Stephen Heimann said in a ruling Tuesday that unless the death penalty was ruled out for 56-year-old Samuel Sallee, he would need to appoint new defense attorneys certified to handle such cases, The Republic reported.
Sallee’s current attorneys have sought a prompt decision so his trial can begin as scheduled in June on four counts of murder in the May 2013 deaths of a woman and three men in Waynesville, a small community outside Columbus.
The judge said the deadline would help protect Sallee’s right to a prompt trial and adequate defense.
“This will preserve Sallee’s due-process rights in the event that the state decides just before trial to file a death-penalty enhancement,” Heimann’s order said.
Sallee faces four counts of murder in the deaths of 53-year-old Katheryn Burton; her longtime boyfriend, Thomas Smith, 39; and two friends, Aaron Cross and Shawn Burton, both 41-year-old Columbus residents. Authorities have said the shootings happened during a possible methamphetamine deal.
Sallee has denied killing the four people, whom he said were his friends.
Defense attorney David Nowak said he didn’t see the value of seeking the death penalty against Salle, who could face 45 years to 65 years in prison for each murder charge.
“At his age, Mr. Sallee wouldn’t be getting out of prison anyway, if convicted,” Nowak said.
Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash has contended that Indiana law and state Supreme Court rulings give prosecutors broad leeway on deciding whether to seek capital punishment.
Nash didn’t immediately return a phone message Wednesday from The Associated Press seeking comment on the judge’s ruling.