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Murder trial

From left are James Hill and Larry Pucalik.

A criminal court judge denied James Hill's motion seeking a new trial in the 1980 murder of an off-duty Hammond policeman during a hotel robbery.

Judge Salvador Vasquez wrote in an order filed Tuesday there was sufficient evidence presented at Hill's trial to convict him of felony murder and attempted robbery for his role in the killing of Lawrence “Larry” Pucalik.

"The verdict is supported by the evidence presented at trial, the verdict is not against the weight of the evidence and the verdict is not clearly erroneous," the judge wrote. 

Vasquez also denied a motion by Hill seeking to overturn his 47-year prison sentence for the crimes.

Hill, 55, was found guilty Aug. 31 at trial of felony murder and attempted robbery in the Nov. 14, 1980, killing of Pucalik 33, who was working as a security guard when he was shot inside Holiday Inn-Southeast, formerly at 3830 179th St. in Hammond.

Prosecutors claimed at trial Hill was the getaway driver for Larry Mayes and Pierre Catlett, who allegedly shot Pucalik during an attempted robbery at the hotel.

In 2012, the three men were charged in Pucalik's killing after the Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force reopened the investigation into the officer's death.

Hill's defense attorneys, Scott King and Russell W. Brown, filed a motion to correct error Nov. 1 asking Vasquez to overturn the jury's verdicts, arguing there was insufficient evidence at trial to convict Hill. The defense attorneys also argued the judge erred by sentencing Hill to more than the 40-year advisory prison sentence for murder.

Catlett, 64, is scheduled for trial Feb. 11 in Pucalik's murder. Mayes, 69, was declared medically incompetent to stand trial in the officer's shooting in March 2014.

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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.