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  • Writer's pictureNWI Times

Prosecutors drop murder charges against teen on eve of trial

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

CROWN POINT — Lake County prosecutors dropped a murder charge Thursday against an 18-year-old man who had been scheduled to stand trial starting Tuesday.

Arshield Honeycutt, of Gary, and another teen were charged in August 2020 in connection with the fatal shooting of a 60-year-old pizza delivery driver in October 2019 in the 3500 block of Pierce Street in Gary.

Phillip Hearne, of Gary, a driver for Rico's Pizza, was shot in his left side and crashed into two other cars before his vehicle came to rest just south of the address where he was to deliver food, according to Lake Criminal Court records. He died at a local hospital.

The charges against Honeycutt were based largely on the word of his co-defendant, Melvin M. Brown, 18, of Gary, who was already in custody in connection with a different homicide in Gary when prosecutors filed charges in Hearne's homicide.

In a motion to dismiss, Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Maureen Koonce wrote, "The state of Indiana cannot meet the strict and heavy burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt as to each element of the charged offense."

Judge Pro Tempore Matthew Fech granted the state's motion to dismiss the case against Honeycutt without prejudice, which means prosecutors could refile charges at a later date. The charges against Brown remained pending.

Attorney John Cantrell handled Honeycutt's case on behalf of the Lake County public defender's office's conflicts division.

"The conflicts division spent a considerable amount of time and effort on this case, because we all became convinced that Arshield was innocent," Cantrell said. "We are all relieved the case was dismissed."

Honeycutt and Brown each were charged with murdering Hearne on Oct. 26, 2019, in the 3500 block of Pierce Street and robbing a Domino's Pizza delivery driver Oct. 25, 2019, on the same Gary block.

At the time the cases were filed in August, Brown had been in custody since March 2020 on charges alleging he murdered Marcelis Stevenson, 21, of Gary, on Jan. 12, 2020, in the area of 35th Avenue and Fillmore Street. Phone records linked to Domino's and Rico's led investigators to Brown, who spoke to police with his mother March 8, 2020, records show.

During the interview, police confronted Brown with a recording of a call to Domino's that led to the robbery Oct. 25, 2019, according to court documents. Brown's mother identified the caller's voice as her son's.

When police asked who Brown hung out with, he said Honeycutt, records state. Brown's mother interjected and said Honeycutt was Brown's "play cousin." Police stopped the interview after Brown's mother said she wanted an attorney, records show.

However, they resumed the interview after the mother said she feared for her family's safety and wanted to continue talking to detectives. During the second part of the interview, Brown allegedly admitted to the robbery of the Domino's driver and identified Honeycutt in a photo lineup as the other person involved, records state. It's unclear from the court record whether the Domino's driver ever identified Honeycutt in a photo lineup.

Brown told detectives he and Honeycutt planned a robbery but Hearne "jumped on top of (Honeycutt) and (Honeycutt) pushed him off and shot him," documents state. Brown has pleaded not guilty in Hearne's homicide, Stevenson's homicide and the Domino's robbery. His next court hearing is set for July 7.

Honeycutt remained charged in the Domino's robbery, to which he's pleaded not guilty.

The judge pro tempore set a bond reduction hearing for Honeycutt in the robbery case for July 8.

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