CROWN POINT — A criminal investigation into alleged wrongdoing by a defense attorney caused a murder trial to be delayed this week.
Devonte Hodge, 22, of Gary, was scheduled to begin trial Monday in Lake Criminal Court on allegations he shot a woman in the head Dec. 8, 2016, in the 400 block of Matthews Street in Gary.
The trial was delayed after a meeting Jan. 18 in Judge Clarence Murray's chambers, according to court records.
The judge was informed at the hearing Derla Gross, the defense attorney for Hodge, was under criminal investigation by the Lake County Sheriff's Office, records state.
Murray ordered Gross removed as Hodge's defense attorney, records state. Aleksandra Dimitrijevic, the deputy prosecutor on the case, was also removed because she was a potential witness in the investigation.
The trial was canceled and Hodge was appointed a public defender.
But the investigation ended almost as soon as it began. Chief Deputy Prosecutor Barbara McConnell told Murray at a court hearing Wednesday no criminal prosecution would result from the investigation.
Murray ordered a new trial March 12. Gross and Dimitrijevic were ordered back on the case.
Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez said Wednesday the investigation began after a search of Hodge's jail cell turned up a document of “questionable origins,” which guards believed might have been contraband.
He said officers investigated and determined the document was discovery material provided to Hodge by Gross. Since a defendant is entitled to state's evidence, the officers determined no crime occurred.
“As far as contraband, nothing was found,” Martinez said. “That was a concern of prosecutors and the judge.”
However, he said the jail's policy dictates discovery material provided to defendants is supposed to be searched by guards, which might not have occurred in this instance.
Martinez said he intended to issue a reminder to attorneys about the jail's policy.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said Gross “communicated with her client in a way that didn't follow protocol,” but confirmed no charges would result from the investigation.
Hodge has twice been charged with murder in unrelated shootings, but the cases were dismissed after one witness turned up dead and a second witness recanted.
A Gary police detective testified at a bond hearing earlier this year Hodge was a suspect in four murders, including the state witness' homicide.
Carter said Wednesday no witnesses were put at risk due to the policy violation.
Gross did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
Hodge had invoked his right to a speedy trial, which would have required his trial begin Wednesday.
Murray declared a court emergency Tuesday under Criminal Rule 4 of Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure, which allowed the trial's delay.
A pretrial conference is scheduled for Feb. 28.