Murder trial

From left are James Hill and Larry Pucalik.

CROWN POINT — A criminal court judge said Wednesday he would issue an order within a week on whether James Hill should get a new trial for the 1980 murder of off-duty Hammond policeman Lawrence “Larry” Pucalik.

Defense attorney Scott King argued at a motion hearing Wednesday there was insufficient evidence at Hill's jury trial in August to convict the 55-year-old man of murder in the Nov. 14, 1980, shooting of Pucalik during an attempted armed robbery at a Hammond hotel.

King said the judge should question the “inherent incredibility” of testimony from former Hammond police Detective Capt. Michael Solan Jr. related to an alleged confession Hill made to the crime in March 1981.

Hill allegedly confessed to two detectives he drove the “killer car” used in Pucalik's murder at the former Holiday Inn-Southeast in Hammond. He identified Larry Mayes and Pierre Catlett from photos as the ones who entered the hotel lobby and shot the security guard, according to testimony.

Solan, who oversaw the investigation into Paculik's murder, testified at Hill's trial he was aware of the confession in 1981, but did not immediately file charges because he wanted to build stronger cases against Mayes and Catlett.

In a motion to correct error, King argued Solan's testimony “defies common sense.” The common practice in a multi-defendant case was to charge the confessor and pressure him to cooperate against his co-defendants, King said.

King asked Vasquez to serve as a “13th juror” and determine whether the jury's guilty verdict went against the weight of the evidence. If it did, the judge should vacate the conviction and order a new trial.

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Peter Villarreal, first assistant deputy prosecutor for Lake County, said at Wednesday's hearing the jury reached its verdict after a weeklong trial featuring 20 witnesses and almost 200 pieces of evidence.

He said Hill's confession was corroborated through other pieces of evidence, including the getaway vehicle and a blue denim bag left at the crime scene.

He pointed out jurors asked numerous questions of witnesses during the trial, which suggested they were engaged and thoughtful. He said the jury rejected King's arguments at trial, and their verdict should be honored.

King is also requesting a new sentencing hearing for Hill, who is serving a 47 years in prison for Pucalik's murder. He argued the judge erred by sentencing Hill to more than 40 years, which was the advisory sentence for the crime.

Vasquez said he would take the arguments under advisement and issue an order in a week.

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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.