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Appeals court affirms conviction in Rison slaying

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed the 2014 murder conviction of Jason Tibbs, now 41, for strangling to death his onetime girlfriend Rayna Rison, of LaPorte, in 1993.

INDIANAPOLIS — The LaPorte man convicted in 2014 for the cold case murder of 16-year-old Rayna Rison received a fair trial and is not entitled to any reduction in his 40-year prison term.

That’s the unanimous ruling of the Indiana Court of Appeals, which last week affirmed the murder conviction of Jason Tibbs, now 41, for strangling Rison on March 26, 1993.

According to court records, Tibbs and Rison briefly dated in middle school and Tibbs sought to rekindle the relationship outside the Pine Lake Veterinary Hospital where Rison worked.

When Rison told Tibbs she didn’t want to be with him he choked her to death.

Tibbs then weighed down Rison’s body and with a friend, Eric Freeman, dumped it in a LaPorte County pond where police discovered it a month later, court records indicate.

Rison’s brother-in-law, Ray McCarty, initially was indicted for the crime as he previously had been convicted of molesting Rison and was on probation at the time of her murder.

However, prosecutors soon dismissed the charges against McCarty for lack of evidence and Rison’s murder went unsolved until 2008 when a previously unknown witness contacted investigators who gave Freeman immunity in exchange for telling what he knew.

Tibbs argued in his appeal for a new trial claiming that he was unfairly denied the opportunity to suggest McCarty was the real murderer and to effectively challenge Freeman’s truthfulness.

Appeals Judge Michael Barnes, weighing the record and the law, found the trial court properly excluded Tibbs’ claimed third-party perpetrator and appropriately disallowed the introduction of records intended to impeach Freeman’s testimony.

“We affirm,” Barnes said.

Tibbs, who is incarcerated at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, still can ask the Indiana Supreme Court to review the appellate decision.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.