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Indiana Supreme Court justices

The justices of the Indiana Supreme Court are, from left, Mark Massa; Steven David; Chief Justice Loretta Rush; Christopher Goff; and Geoffrey Slaughter, a Crown Point native.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court has refused to grant a new trial to an Ohio man serving 61 years in prison for robbing two southeastern Indiana liquor stores, despite acknowledging that police searched his cellphone location records without a warrant.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter v. U.S., written by Chief Justice John Roberts, a former LaPorte County resident, that police must procure a search warrant from a judge to access historical customer location records held by telephone companies.

The nation's high court then ordered the Hoosier justices to take a second look at their 2017 decision involving Marcus Zanders, 36, in light of Roberts' pronouncement that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in location records that are almost continuously generated, whether or not a wireless phone is in use, as the device pings nearby towers looking for the strongest signal.

In a 5-0 decision, the Indiana Supreme Court last week concluded that admitting Zanders' warrantless cellphone location records at his trial was harmless error, and there's no reasonable doubt that the jury still would have convicted him based on all the other evidence in the case.

Specifically, Chief Justice Loretta Rush, a former Munster resident, pointed to Facebook photos and videos posted by Zanders using his phone following the robberies that clearly show the alcohol and other items he stole from the liquor stores, along with piles of cash.

Rush also detailed in her 31-page ruling myriad other similarities between the robberies that inextricably link the crimes directly to Zanders, more so than the phone location records that only could show Zanders was near each of the liquor stores on the nights they were robbed.

"The other evidence made a stronger showing: that Zanders was at the robberies, as the actual robber," Rush said.

Zanders' attorney, Tony Walker, of Gary, said he was disappointed by the Indiana high court ruling.

"How do we explain to him (Zanders) that the U.S. Supreme Court determined that unconstitutional evidence was admitted against him in his only trial, but instead of granting him a fair trial on remand, the Indiana Supreme Court stepped into the shoes of the jury and weighed the evidence itself?" Walker asked.

"I believe everyone is entitled to a fair trial, and a Supreme Court should never act as a jury. Neither of those legal principles are recognized by this opinion."

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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.