Jeffrey Spence Jr.

Jeffrey Spence Jr., 28, killed June 27

Spence was fatally stabbed during an argument with his brother while at a party at the man's home at 421 E. Pettit Ave., police said. Spence was taken to a hospital around 11:20 p.m., when police were called, but died shortly after midnight of wounds to the chest. His brother, Jeremy A. Spence, was arrested on a preliminary charge of aggravated battery after admitting to stabbing his brother because he had been shutting the door to his home without consent, according to police. Witnesses said heavy drinking played a role. Jeremy A. Spence pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received 30 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.


A Fort Wayne man has been arrested in connection with his brother’s stabbing death Saturday night.

Jeffery Spence Jr., 28, died shortly after midnight Saturday of a stab wound to the chest, the Allen County Coroner’s Office said in a statement. The death was ruled the county’s 17th homicide this year. Spence was taken to a hospital in critical condition after police were called to a home at 241 E. Pettit Ave. about 11:20 p.m. Saturday on a report of a stabbing.

Based on the initial investigation, police believe that Spence was visiting a resident of that home. An argument between Spence and the resident turned physical and Spence was stabbed during the fight, police said.
The victim’s brother, Jeremy A. Spence, 27, was arrested and taken to the Allen County Jail on a preliminary charge of aggravated battery in connection with the stabbing, police said Sunday.

Police were first called to the house at 11:08 p.m. when a neighbor reported a disturbance. Jeremy Spence and a woman, who both live at the house, were arguing loudly, said neighbor Rick Papazian, 56.

"There seemed to be something going on between the two of them," Papazian said. He heard glass bottles break and decided to call the police.

According to daily activity logs, police left the scene at 11:17 p.m.  "I was about ready to call the cops again because there was a lot of commotion going on," Papazian said.  Shortly after that, he heard the female neighbor calling for help.

Police spokeswoman Raquel Foster said the police were called, and the woman flagged down a nearby police officer.  Neighbors said they called the police twice in the past several weeks for disturbances at the house.

Papazian said the neighbors had always been loud, but things seemed to get more out of control this summer.  "There’s nothing like this that ever happened around here before," said Papazian, who grew up on the block.

Arlena Roby

Gary Man Convicted in Hammer Murder

June 18, 2010

CROWN POINT, Ind. (AP) - Jurors have convicted a Gary man of bludgeoning his mother to death with a hammer. Lake County deputy Prosecutor Robert Neary says 34-year-old Rasson Roby struck his 59-year-old mother, Arlena Roby, a minimum of 18 to 24 times with a hammer. A Lake Criminal Court jury found Roby guilty Wednesday of voluntary manslaughter in his mother's February 2007 death.

He was initially charged with murder, but the judge gave jurors the option of convicting him of the lesser charge. Judge Diane Boswell banned Roby from his trial because he had been disruptive earlier, and he did not take the stand. Roby has a history of mental illness and told police he attacked his mother with a hammer in her Gary home because she "got into his personal space."


A Gary man was sentenced today to 25 years in prison for beating his 59-year-old mother to death with a hammer in 2007. the Northwest Times of Indiana reports.

A Lake Criminal Court jury found Rasson Roby, 34, guilty last month of voluntary manslaughter for Arlena Roby's death. Roby originally was charged with the more severe crime of murder, but jurors found him guilty of the lesser charge.

Arlena Roby was found dead in her Gary on Feb. 1, 2007, police said.  Deputy Prosecutor Robert Neary told the jury during the trial that Rasson Roby struck his mother a minimum of 18 to 24 times with a hammer.

Mya Lee

Mom's boyfriend accused of murder in toddler's death

June 24, 2010

CROWN POINT | A Chicago man is facing murder and other multiple charges in connection to last year's death of a Hammond toddler left in his care.

A probable cause affidavit filed Tuesday alleges Stacey M. Daniels, 30, told police he struck his girlfriend's daughter, 21-month-old Mya Lee, with a brush causing the girl to lose her balance and hit her head.

The child died at 7:25 a.m. July 24, 2009, at the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital from what the Cook County Medical Examiner's office determined a homicide resulting from child abuse, the affidavit states.

An autopsy found the girl suffered brain edema, a subdural hematoma and multiple scalp hemorrhages. Her legs showed signs of bruising of a type doctors said is not typical of bruising suffered by toddlers, including a large hematoma on her right thigh.

Daniels is charged with murder, two counts of battery and three counts of neglect to a dependent.

Daniels is alleged to have told police he was at his girlfriend's apartment in the 2200 block of Woodhollow Avenue in Hammond, where he stayed off and on, when the child was injured on the morning of July 23, 2009.

Daniels reported Mya as still asleep about 7 a.m. when her mother left for work leaving the child in his care, the affidavit states.

Daniels said the child woke up crying about 7:05 a.m. and continued to cry, which he said was not unusual. He was trying to get the girl ready to leave to stay with a babysitter when he picked up a hairbrush and tapped the girl on the thigh as she walked away from him, he told police.

The child lost her balance, fell, hit her head on the floor, and started to cry, he said.

Daniels said he put the child back in her crib and left the room after which he heard "a shaking sound" coming from the bedroom. Re-entering the bedroom, Daniels said he found the girl unresponsive and shaking uncontrollably before going limp.

Daniels is alleged to have told conflicting stories of how the child hit her head.

The child's mother told police she had gotten up at 5:50 a.m. to get ready for work and had asked Daniels to take the child to the babysitter for the day.

She reported the child as healthy and uninjured that morning but for a braid that had been pulled from her head when it got caught in a shopping car.

Lauren McConniel

Lauren McConniel

MUNCIE -- In the months leading up to her death, 5-year-old Lauren McConniel was treated twice at Ball Memorial Hospital, once at Southway Urgent Care Center, once at St. Vincent Randolph Hospital in Winchester and three times at Merdian Services, a behavioral health care provider.

Despite staff seeing broken fingers, malnutrition, a head injury, weight loss, unusual vaginal appearance and bizarre behavior, only one of these professional caregivers called Child Protective Services (CPS), which was just a 1-800 telephone call away, police say.

Karen Royer -- a counselor at Meridian who reported that in all of her years of dealing with kids she had never heard of such bizarre behavior, and who believed the girl was being seriously sexually abused -- did contact CPS. Lauren looked exhausted, frail and fragile to Royer.

But that was on March 1, and the target of the sexual abuse allegation was not the girl's father, Ryan, or stepmother, Brittany, who had custody of Lauren. The target was Amber Huggins, the girl's natural mother who was living in Knoxville, Tenn. Huggins had last seen her daughter seven months earlier, when Lauren was in good health, and Huggins had been desperately searching for her.

By March 3, Lauren was hospitalized at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where she developed seizures, respiratory failure and shock. She died there six days later.

"Child Protective Services was contacted by Karen Royer over allegations of sexual abuse that Ryan and Brittany made about the natural mother," said Muncie police Sgt. Jimmy Gibson. "The trouble is, Karen Royer believed Ryan and Brittany. They were believable. But I don't suspect the natural mom at all. The natural mom hadn't had contact with the child since August, and here this (allegation) was coming up in February and March. When the natural mom had custody of her, her weight was normal and the pictures showed she was healthy and happy."

And those weren't the only lies the McConniels told to caregivers, Gibson said. They also claimed that Lauren was being treated for malnutrition by a Winchester physician, who had never even seen her once.

Also, at Southway Urgent Care on Feb. 4, the McConniels presented themselves as rescuers of the child, claiming they had just recently obtained custody of the girl. "When questioned about the girl's weight, they acted concerned and blamed the natural mom," Gibson said. "And they were convincing."

Bill Gosnell, a nurse at Southway who treated Lauren, declined comment, saying, "This is going to trial."

On Dec. 8, Lauren was treated by physician Tom Mengelt in the emergency department at BMH for broken right fingers from jumping on the bed.

"I don't know why they didn't report that to (CPS)," Gibson said. "People don't want to believe that parents would hurt their kids that way. They think surely the parents care or they wouldn't bring a kid in with broken fingers."

The child was seen again at BMH on March 2 for a head injury caused by a fall. A clinical impression of malnutrition and behavioral problems was also noted during that visit. The hospital sent Lauren home after treatment including a CT scan.

On that same day, the McConniels took the child to Valle Vista Health Systems in Greenwood for psychiatric treatment (the couple were unable to contact Meridian).

Ellen Harrington, a counselor at Valle Vista, diagnosed the girl's problem as lack of supervision, failure to thrive, malnutrition and medical neglect. Harrington referred Lauren to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where she was taken in the early morning hours of March 3. She died there on March 9.

"We can't comment regarding any specific patient or related processes, but we are cooperating fully with the investigation, and our hearts go out to the family," BMH spokesman Neil Gifford said.

Hank Milius, president of Meridian Services, said, "We at Meridian Services are deeply saddened by the death of Lauren McConniel. While privacy laws prevent us from commenting specifically on this case, in the event there is a suspected case of child abuse or neglect, Meridian staff are trained to make a report to the Indiana Department of Child Services."

Gibson credits Southway with referring Lauren to Meridian Services, and he credits Meridian Services for contacting CPS.

Under Indiana law, anyone who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect is required to report it.

Investigation ongoing

Police have not closed their investigation of the hospital's and Southway's failure to report the McConniels to CPS. Failing to report is a misdemeanor, Gibson said.

"Any red flag could be reported to us," said Ann Houseworth, a spokesman for the department of child services. "We would rather assess a situation that was not a case of abuse and neglect than not assess a situation and find that the child was placed in more harm."

The child abuse hotline is staffed 24 hours a day. If a child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm, CPS is required by law to respond within an hour. If a child may be a victim of abuse, the agency must respond within 24 hours, and if a report of child neglect is made, the maximum response time by law is five days.

"If someone sees something that makes you wonder, you might want to ask questions to find out more," Houseworth said.

She declined comment on Lauren's death.

After Royer reported the suspected abuse of Lauren to CPS, "I believe CPS here contacted CPS in Tennessee, because that's where the allegations were," Gibson said. "Lauren was scheduled to be interviewed by SMART (Sexual Molestation and Abuse Response Team), me or (Sgt. Linda) Cook, on March 3. We were doing it as a courtesy for Tennessee. That's when she went into Riley. I wish I could have talked to her. I hate it that I didn't."

Police also haven't closed their investigation into other family members for failure to report.

Lauren's stepgrandparents Robert and Angie Lee and her step aunt Samra Lee shared a house at 2304 S. Ebright St. with the McConniels, Lauren and Lauren's older sister.

"There are a whole lot more family members (than the McConniels) who could be held accountable," Gibson said. "But how far do we go? Do we arrest everybody? We're behind on other cases and under-staffed."

Amber Huggins, Lauren McConniel's mother, spent six months trying to find daughters

MUNCIE -- The biological mother of Lauren McConniel says she lost custody of the girl because she couldn't afford an attorney.

She also says she pleaded unsuccessfully with the girl's father and stepmother -- via e-mail -- to tell her where they were living in the months before Lauren's death.

"I was kept from my daughter for six months," said Amber Huggins, a Marion native now living in Knoxville, Tenn. "I looked everywhere for them (Lauren and her 9-year-old sister) for six months."

Five-year-old Lauren's father, Ryan McConniel, and stepmother, Brittany McConniel, have been charged with felony neglect of a dependent resulting in Lauren's death on March 9.

Amber and Ryan's divorce decree in White County, Ark., granted Ryan custody of both children to the father.

"I did not have the financial resources to have an attorney," Amber said this week in a telephone interview. "Ryan had an attorney and I did not. There was no other reason he got custody. I was not an unfit mother. I never hurt my children."

Ryan kept the older daughter, but let Amber have Lauren starting at Christmas of 2008 after Amber filed a complaint of child abuse.

"She had bruises on her," Amber said. "I asked her what happened and she said she didn't know. I took pictures of the bruises but they were old and not good quality pictures. Child protective services in White County said it was not enough."

Amber had Lauren until August 2009 when Ryan took her back. He gave Knoxville police an address in Winchester where he said he would be living.

But Amber later traveled to Winchester, and, accompanied by the police, went to the address Ryan had provided to Knoxville police.

Nobody had lived at the address in a long time.

"I sent numerous e-mails begging them to give me their address," Amber said. "I was told they were living in Winchester. I heard they were living in Farmland. I heard Fort Wayne. I heard Muncie. I heard everything."

Amber said Ryan and Brittany responded by e-mail that she could see the girls when they got old enough to decide for themselves if they wanted to see her.

"I went to the Muncie police the same day I went to Winchester," Amber said. "They told me to file contempt charges against Ryan (for denying her court-ordered visitation rights). I was in the process of filing contempt charges when I got the phone call that Lauren was in the hospital."
Ryan, Brittany and the two girls had been living with Brittany's sister, Samra Lee, and Brittany's mother and stepfather, Angie and Robert E. Lee, on South Ebright Street.

"My daughter was alive and perfectly happy and normal and healthy when she was with me," Amber said. "She was a normal delivery, a normal pregnancy and a normal daughter. I should be signing her up for kindergarten and she should be cheerleading."

After Lauren's death, child protective services removed the 9-year-old from Ryan and Brittany's custody and placed her in foster care.

On March 19, Muncie attorney Kimberly Dowling, representing Amber, filed a petition for emergency custody of the 9-year-old, who now lives with Amber. The petition said Lauren was emaciated, significantly bruised and had elevated salt levels in her blood when she died.

"Child protective services in Arkansas was involved in December of 2008 or January of 2009 over allegations that Lauren had bruises," said Muncie police Sgt. Jimmy Gibson. "They investigated it, and I believe it was reported by the father and stepmother that Lauren was now living with the bio-mom, so the case was closed. The father and stepmother reported that Lauren had bumped into a trash can. The bio-mom had pictures of bruising but I think they were taken with a cell phone and weren't very good."

The Lees remain under investigation by Gibson for failure to report child abuse and neglect.

"Hopefully, some family might come forward and have a conscience and do the right thing," Gibson said. "The uncle next door threatened to call child protective services but never did."

Angie Lee gave police a statement, while Samra Lee declined to be interviewed, according to Gibson. Robert E. Lee went in for a police interview but reported he was hurting and ended up putting himself in the hospital, according to Gibson. "He said he needed to leave and never came back."

Larry Self

Larry Self

Man's body found buried in home's backyard

Victim's sister had reported him missing; partner is arrested

By Vic Ryckaert
Posted: June 17, 2010

Backyard burial victim had been shot

A man found buried in the backyard of his Near-Southside home had been shot, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police said this morning.

Larry Self, 46, was shot in the midst of a fight on March 14 with his partner, Anthony Sachse, 41, Sgt. Matthew Mount said today in a press release. Police do not know what the argument was about.

Police say Sachse confessed to his role in the killing, but are not releasing his statements.

Police recovered Self’s body on Wednesday and arrested Sachse, who is held without bond in the Marion County Jail.

(Earlier -- Man's body found buried in home's backyard)

An Indianapolis man accused of killing his partner and burying his body in the backyard of a Near-Southside home was arrested Wednesday on a preliminary charge of murder, police said.

Anthony Sachse, 41, is suspected of killing Larry Self, 45, on March 14, police said. Sachse was being held without bond Wednesday at the Marion County Jail.

Sachse admitted to the killing Wednesday morning after detectives served a search warrant at the home he shared with Self in the 1700 block of South Meridian Street, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Sgt. Paul Thompson said.

Police recovered Self's body, and an autopsy was performed Wednesday, Thompson said. Police would not disclose the cause of death.

Police stepped in when Self's sister filed a missing-person report June 4, telling officers she had last spoken to her brother by phone March 6.

"He buried him in the backyard," Patricia Self, 56, told the Indianapolis Star on Wednesday. "What kind of monster does that?"

Larry Self was on disability, his sister said, and she thinks Sachse cashed her brother's Social Security checks after his death. Patricia Self, Springfield, Ill., said her brother and Sachse had been in an off-and-on relationship for more than two decades.

"I really didn't believe he would just throw him in the ground, someone who loved him for 20 years-plus," she said.

Patricia Self said she spoke to her brother often by telephone, and she became concerned when the calls stopped. She said she received e-mails from her brother's account, starting in April, that she now believes Sachse wrote.

In late May, her brother's doctor's office called, saying it could not reach him and that someone had told the office he had died. About a week later, she said, she got a message from her brother's e-mail account that seemed suspicious.

"It was a nasty e-mail . . . saying he didn't want to talk to me," she said. "My brother would never send me a hateful e-mail. Never."

She filed the missing-person report later that day. According to the June 4 report, she told police she feared her brother had become a victim of foul play.

Police dug up Self's body with help from University of Indianapolis forensic anthropologist Stephen Nawrocki. Officers also seized a 9 mm handgun from the home, the report said.

According to a police report, Sachse called a suicide hotline and threatened to kill himself March 25. Police went to the home and took Sachse to St. Francis Hospital -- Beech Grove.

"Mr. Sachse stated that his partner passed a couple weeks ago, and he has had a very hard time getting past this," officer Klinton Streeter wrote in the report.

Patricia Self said Self relocated from Texas about five years ago in hopes of helping Sachse get away from bad influences.

"My brother had a big heart. He didn't have any enemies," she said. "He was HIV-positive and . . . stayed with Joe because he didn't want to endanger anyone else."

Debra Houser

Debra Houser

Rodney Houser Guilty of Ex’s Murder

Jurors reject lesser charges

Published: May 14, 2010 3:00 a.m.

COLUMBIA CITY – Rodney Houser swore he killed his ex-wife in a sudden fit of anger. But a Whitley Circuit Court jury disagreed, convicting the 44-year-old man of murder.  After two days of dramatic testimony, almost 300 exhibits and nearly four hours of deliberation, the jury decided not to convict Houser of voluntary manslaughter.

Court-appointed defense attorney Anthony Churchward conceded at the beginning of the trial that Houser is to blame for his ex-wife’s disappearance and death last November. Churchward asked the jury to convict Houser of a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter because he acted in “sudden heat” as defined by state law.

But Whitley County Prosecutor Matt Rentschler argued Houser intended all along to kill his wife and therefore committed murder, stomping her to death with a pair of cowboy boots.

Police arrested Houser the day after his ex-wife went missing, after a friend told the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department that Houser had killed 49-year-old Debra Houser at her Old Trail Road home and asked for his help in disposing of the body. Confronted by police, Houser told them his ex-wife was at work and had called his cell phone that morning at 7:30, later admitting he had made the call on her cell phone himself.

Twenty-nine days later, on Dec. 15, her battered body was discovered in a Whitley County creek by detectives acting on a tip from a farmer who thought he had seen Houser’s truck in the area the day of Debra Houser’s disappearance. An autopsy revealed she died from multiple blunt-force injuries, caused by what was later revealed to be a pair of black leather cowboy boots.

Houser took the stand on Wednesday. He said his ex-wife had provoked him to a violent rage by confronting him about his failure to be home to get their son off the school bus, throwing him out of the house, insulting his girlfriend and hitting him during the argument.

But Rentschler asked the jury whether that was enough provocation to cause an ordinary person to go into such a violent rage.

“Is that provocation?” he asked. “Even if it’s true? Don’t lower the standard to his level. … Nothing takes away our God-given choice of free will. Calling (the crime) something less than murder just doesn’t fit.”  He again played for the jury a recording of a jail-house phone conversation Houser had with his girlfriend. During the call, an obviously irritated Houser describes his ex-wife as “the curse of his life.”

“I’m happy with the world and the outcome,” Houser said on the phone. “Instead of just accepting, … I decided on my own. … For once something (expletive) happened that got (expletive) changed.”

Churchward argued that the evidence clearly showed Houser became enraged that night, demonstrated by the manner in which he killed her, using his feet.

“He used what he had at his disposal at that split second when it happened,” Churchward said.  Houser seemed passive, as he had through much of the trial, as the jury’s verdict was read.

Debra Houser’s daughter and family friends hugged and cried as the jury filed out of the courtroom.  Elaine Tuttle, a 20-year friend of Debra Houser, described her as a generous and caring person but wondered whether her desire to help other people contributed to her death.

“But that’s why we all loved her so much. You always knew you could count on her,” she said. “She was the best kind of best friend I could have had.”

After the verdict, Rentschler said he believed the taped jail conversation made a difference for the jury, allowing them to see a difference in Houser’s demeanor.

“I think the jury did a wonderful job examining the evidence,” Rentschler said.

Amber Kunkle, Debra Houser’s daughter with another man, was a constant presence at the trial, sitting directly in line with the witness chair and taking it all in.

She said her mother raised her to be a strong person, and she said she felt her presence throughout the case.  “You can’t change the past,” Kunkle said, standing in front of the Courthouse. “But you can look to the future to make it better.”

Kunkle has custody of Debra and Rodney Houser’s 10-year-old son.

The boy has asked some questions about what is going on, Kunkle said, and knows that what happened to his mother was caused by his father, which will result in a long jail term.

“For right or wrong, though, he loves his parents,” she said.

With prior felony convictions for battery to his son, invasion of privacy, stalking and intimidation, Houser could face more than 55 years in prison when he is sentenced in mid-June.

Roberto Pedraza III

Roberto Pedraza III

Father Sentenced in Son's Shaking Death

March 16, 2011

PLYMOUTH — Roberto Pedraza Jr., 21, of Walkerton, was sentenced today to serve 20 years in prison for neglect of a dependent resulting in death. Pedraza’s 2-month-old son, Roberto Pedraza III, died Jan. 18, 2010, from severe internal and brain injuries obtained while in the care of his father.

According to police testimony, Pedraza was caring for the child while the mother, Whitney Adams, formerly of Plymouth, was at work.

Pedraza Jr. admitted he shook and squeezed the baby, which resulted in death. He pleaded guilty to a plea deal that dropped voluntary manslaughter and battery resulting in death charges.

In the plea agreement sentencing today, Marshall County Superior Court 1 Judge Robert Bowen allowed the investigating officer and families of the victim to take the stand before deciding whether to accept the plea agreement for a 30-year prison sentence with 10 years suspended.

Neglect of a dependent resulting in death is a Class A felony, punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison.

Plymouth Detective Leo Mangus said Pedraza Jr. gave conflicting statements of what actually happened to the victim, but admitted he was solely responsible.

Mangus said Pedraza first said the baby’s ribs were broken because the infant stopped breathing and he performed chest compressions. In another scenario Pedraza said the baby fell from a swing, he picked him up, shook him and then dropped him.

Maternal grandfather James Adams placed a framed photo of the infant on the stand while reading a statement from the victim’s mother, who has since moved to Florida.

"What you did to our son was disgusting and implorable," he read to the defendant. "You hurt so many people with your disgusting act, and now you act like you’re the victim.

"The victim is my son," Adams said, in reading from the mother’s letter.

Adams also accused Pedraza Jr. of prior abuse in the days preceding the child’s death.  Paternal grandfather Roberto Pedraza Sr. took the stand and said his son did not intentionally hurt his grandson.

"We are all grieving at this time," said Pedraza Sr., pointing out that his son has no past history of violence. "Now Whitney’s family is degrading my son as a baby beater and killer."

Pedraza Sr. said his son should have told the truth of what happened in the beginning; but, he said, he was scared and didn’t know what to do.

Assistant Prosecutor Marc Morrison said he believed this was a case of shaken baby syndrome, but the defendant has never come forward with details of what actually happened.

"Obviously his actions are horrible, but we’re not saying he’s a killer," Morrison said. "We’re not here today saying there was intent to kill the baby, but he still needs to be held responsible because, although he’s sorry, it won’t bring back Roberto."

The defendant’s attorney, Thomas Strickland, asked for the minimum sentence since the defendant had no prior record, felt remorse and the act was less than intentional.

Pedraza Jr. said he could not understand why the mother of his children wrote such a letter to the court, saying he thought she still loved him.  "I wish she was here so I could apologize," he said. "It was an accident and I’m hurt, too. I’ve forever lost my son and now my daughter."

Pedraza and Whitney also have a 3-year-old daughter.

"Everybody suffers here," said the judge, who accepted the plea deal. "If there was any evidence or reason to believe this was intended, this would be a different matter."

"But a child was placed in a situation of trust and died by your hands," Bowen said to Pedraza Jr.

Bowen sentenced Pedraza Jr. to 30 years in prison with 10 years suspended, and remanded him to the Marshall County Jail.  Several family members wept and told the defendant they loved him. Pedraza bowed his head and did not respond.