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Defense attorney says he will file appeal in 16-year-old Hammond boy's murder case

Defense attorney says he will file appeal in 16-year-old Hammond boy's murder case

From the This week in local crime news: Police: Burglar breaks into sleeping family's home in Crown Point, appears to be holding gun series

A defense attorney for Omarion E. Wilbourn said Thursday he would appeal a judge's decision to waive the 16-year-old boy's murder case from juvenile court.

Wilbourn was charged Wednesday in Lake Criminal Court with the felony murder of Lucia Gonzales, who was bludgeoned and stabbed to death Aug. 21, 2017, at her home in the 7500 block of Alexander Avenue.

He is also charged with the rape July 17, 2017, of a 14-year-old girl in the 6700 block of Grand Avenue and the rape of a 25-year-old woman Aug. 8, 2017, in the 7500 block of Arkansas Avenue. The boy allegedly threatened both women with a hammer before assaulting them.

Wilbourn has been accused of the crimes for more than a year in Lake County Juvenile Court, but only last week did Juvenile Court Judge Thomas P. Stefaniak Jr. order Wilbourn to stand trial as an adult. His decision came after a probable cause hearing presided over by Magistrate Judge Matthew B. Gruett.

Michael A. Campbell, the defendant's juvenile court attorney, said Thursday he would file an interlocutory appeal challenging the ruling, arguing the judge relied on inadmissible evidence to reach his decision.

If the appeal was granted, it would stay proceedings in the murder case while the issue was argued in the Indiana Court of Appeals.

A responding officer found Gonzales, 25, dead Aug. 22, 2017, in the kitchen of her home, according to court records. There was no signs of a forced entry into the residence, but there were signs of an apparent struggle. The woman's cellphone was also missing.

Police used phone records to determine the device was powered on at a home in the 1700 block of 171st Street in Hammond. They went to the home and found Wilbourn asleep with the phone under his pillow, records state.  

The boy was questioned, and allegedly told detectives another boy gave him the phone, but that boy denied it. 

Campbell said the judge had previously ruled those statements Wilbourn gave to police were inadmissible – the boy was not read his Miranda rights before he was questioned. However, the judge then cited that information in his order determining there was sufficient probable cause in the felony murder.

“That is a blatant oversight by the judge,” he said.

The appeal also questioned why the judge allowed prosecutors to proceed with felony murder charges, but dismissed a second count of murder due to insufficient evidence.

Both offenses stemmed from Gonzales's killing. The difference between the two offenses hinged on whether Wilbourn intended to kill Gonzales, or whether he killed her during the commission of a robbery.

The judge did not address the issue of intent in his order finding insufficient probable cause for murder.

He instead focused on the fact that there was a noticeable absence of physical evidence connecting Wilbourn to the crime, despite the “extremely violent and intrusive nature of the victim's death.”

He noted the woman's blood was not found on clothing police believe he was wearing at the time of the offense. The boy's DNA was also absent from the crime scene.

Campbell agreed with the judge's assessment — he believed Hammond police rushed the investigation and were too quick to rule out another suspect as the murderer — but the appeal questioned how the judge could dismiss the murder count without addressing the issue of intent in his order.

Wilbourn remained in custody Thursday without bond.

Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail


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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.

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