Appeals court affirm conviction, sentencing of Harlan Haines' mother

Rebecca Bibbs, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.
·2 min read

Mar. 5—INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and 40-year sentence of Jennifer Lynn Harris, mother of 18 month old Harlan Haines, for her role in boy's death.

Harris' former boyfriend, Dylan Tate, was convicted in 2019 of the toddler's murder, neglect and molestation.

Harris had argued the trial court abused its discretion in admitting photographic evidence, there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction and the sentence inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and her character. The court disagreed on all points.

The photographs in question were taken by hospital staff and a Marion County deputy coroner.

"Although the photographs could be considered gruesome because they depicted the extreme and unfathomable injuries perpetrated against a helpless toddler, the photographs are relevant to show the extent and duration of H.H.'s injuries that the witnesses had orally described," the court said in the opinion written by Judge Rudolph R. Pyle III.

The opinion was filed on Feb. 23.

Harris also argued prosecutors failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that she knowingly placed Harlan in a situation that endangered his life, the opinion said. However, the court pointed out that Harlan had been examined twice in December 2017 for suspicious injuries at a hospital and that his primary care physician suspected the child was a victim of abuse.

Harris also knew Tate to have a volatile personality after he kicked her out of their home in January 2018 because he remained angry over an incident in which Harlan's leg had been broken, the opinion said. In addition, the opinion noted, Harris knew Tate was taking and selling drugs and by her own admission was becoming increasingly angry around the time he brutally beat Harlan.

"This evidence, which is sufficient to establish that Harris knowingly placed H.H. in a dangerous situation, is sufficient to support Harris' Level 1 felony neglect of a dependent resulting in death conviction," the court said.

In terms of the March 2020 sentencing, Harris argued the trial court entered a sentencing statement that included several improper aggravating factors that were unsupported by the record. Those include consideration of two misdemeanor convictions, consideration that Harlan was younger than 14 and that the brutality of Tate's actions were not a proper basis for the enhanced sentence.

However, according to the evidence, the appeals court said, Harlan had at least 52 head to toe injuries that had taken place over time and were part of a "continuum of torture."

The court said even if the trial court had erred, it would not have remanded Harris' case for re-sentencing.

"Here, the trial court could have properly sentenced Harris to the maximum forty-year sentence based solely upon the aggravating factor that Harris violated her position of trust as H.H.'s mother," the court said.

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