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Devon Seats v. State of Indiana
Case Number: 20A-CR-00856
Judge: Carr L. Darden
Court: COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA
Plaintiff's Attorney: Curtis T. Hill, Jr.
Attorney General of Indiana
Deputy Attorney General
Just Call 855-853-4800 for Free Help Finding a Lawyer Help You.
Indianapolis, IN - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant Devon Seats with appeals the sentence he received for his convictions of murder, afelony and three counts of Level 4 felony burglary.
 The facts before us are derived from the factual basis established at the guilty
plea hearing and the testimony of Sergeant Mark Prater at Seats’ sentencing
 On November 20, 2017, Seats, Nehemiah Merriweather, Tarius Blade and
Ka’Ron Bickham-Hurst embarked upon a series of home burglaries in
Indianapolis, Indiana, commencing with the home of Eric Cummings. The
four young men gained entry by breaking a window in the rear of the home.
They then ransacked the home and took a laptop and several pairs of Air
Ind. Code § 35-42-1-1 (2017).
Ind. Code § 35-43-2-1 (2014).
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 The four young men next arrived at the home of Dr. Kevin Rodgers.
knocked on the door, and, believing that no one was inside, all four men went
to the back of the home. They used a paving stone from the yard to break a rear
window to gain entry into the home, and Seats entered the home. After gaining
entry and hearing a voice inside, Merriweather, Bickham-Hurst, and Blade fled
from the home. However, Seats remained inside the home and confronted Dr.
Rodgers, the homeowner. After shooting Dr. Rodgers multiple times, Seats
took several Cathedral High School championship rings and fled from the
 Officers with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD)
responded to a call of a person shot, and first responders found Dr. Rodgers in
the kitchen of his home with two gunshot wounds, one to the abdomen and
another to the head. Medics pronounced Dr. Rodgers dead at the scene. Crime
scene specialists located three shell casings inside the home, and later testing
revealed that the cartridge casings were all fired by the same firearm.
 Apparently not satisfied, Seats, Merriweather, Bickham-Hurst, and Blade
decided to burglarize a third home that day. The young men forced entry
through a rear bedroom window into a home belonging to Logan Araujo. They
3 Although in the transcript Dr. Rodgers’ surname is spelled “Rogers,” family, friends, and colleagues of the
victim use the spelling of “Rodgers” in the numerous victim impact letters submitted in this case. Thus, we
presume “Rodgers” is the correct spelling of the victim’s surname and use it here.
Court of Appeals of Indiana | Memorandum Decision 20A-CR-856 | November 20, 2020 Page 4 of 13
took numerous items from the home, including a distinctive gold colored Glock
semi-automatic handgun, a shotgun, several watches, and a diamond ring.
 Later that afternoon, police stopped a vehicle that had come from Seats’ home,
and in the trunk of the vehicle they found a 9 millimeter semi-automatic
handgun that a firearms examiner later determined was the gun that had fired
the shell casings found in Dr. Rodgers’ home. In another vehicle, police
recovered several Cathedral High School athletic championship rings that were
stolen from Dr. Rodgers’ home, and subsequent analysis revealed that a DNA
sample collected from Seats matched DNA found on the rings. Additionally,
police found Eric Cummings’ stolen laptop in a vehicle occupied by Blade,
Seats, and Merriweather. During the investigation, police also seized the cell
phones of all four men. Forensic analysis of their cell phones yielded photos
and videos taken on November 20th
. In the videos, Merriweather, Blade,
Bickham-Hurst, and Seats are holding the gun used to kill Dr. Rodgers and the
firearm stolen from Logan Araujo’s residence.
 Sergeant Mark Prater with the IMPD was the lead detective assigned to this
case, and he testified at Seats’ sentencing hearing. Sergeant Prater testified that,
during his interview of Tarius Blade, Blade stated that when he asked Seats why
he had shot Dr. Rodgers, Seats responded, “Because he saw my face.” Tr. Vol.
II, p. 49.
 The State initially charged Seats with Count I murder, a felony; Count II
murder, a felony; Count III burglary, a Level 1 felony; Count IV burglary, a
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Level 4 felony; Count V burglary, a Level 4 felony; and Count VI burglary, a
Level 4 felony. A jury trial was set to begin on these charges on January 13,
2020; however, on the morning of trial, the parties submitted a plea agreement
to the trial court. Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, Seats agreed to
plead guilty to Count I murder and to Counts IV, V, and VI, three counts of
Level 4 felony burglary, in exchange for the State’s dismissal of the remaining
counts. The plea agreement also provided that the sentences on all counts were
to run concurrently and that the total aggregate sentence would be capped at
fifty years. Seats acknowledged to the trial court that he was pleading guilty for
the reason that he was guilty; that he was satisfied with the representation
provided by his attorney; and that he wanted to enter into the agreement and
was doing so voluntarily. The trial court accepted the plea agreement after
finding that a factual basis existed for the pleas; took the matter under further
advisement; and set the matter for a sentencing hearing date.
 Seats’ sentencing hearing was scheduled for February 13th. On the day of
sentencing, Seats’ counsel informed the court that Seats did not want to proceed
with the plea agreement. The trial court requested the parties to submit briefs
on the issue of whether the court could “hold [Seats] to his plea agreement.” Id.
at 29. After receiving the parties’ briefs/submissions, the court held a hearing
on February 27th
, at which it noted its authority to move forward with the plea
agreement and denied Seats’ request to withdraw his pleas. In announcing its
decision, the court commented upon Seats’ allegation in his brief/submission
and argument to the court that he had difficulty understanding the proceedings,
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as noted: “Mr. Seats is not new to the criminal justice system. He is currently
serving a sentence for another offense. So, he has been through this process
before. He is not new to it. So, he does understand what the plea agreement is
and what it means.” Id. at 36-37. In addition, the court stated, “The State also
submitted to the Court a jail recording in which Mr. Seats expresses buyer’s
remorse, not for any other reason other than he just no longer wanted it and he
thought he could beat it.” Id. at 37.
 On March 12th, the trial court held Seats’ sentencing hearing. Sergeant Prater
testified on behalf of the State. Dr. Rodgers’ sister, oldest son, and wife gave
victim impact statements to the court about how his murder had affected the
family. Seats’ mother testified on his behalf. The court sentenced Seats to fifty
years for his murder conviction and to eight years on each of the three burglary
convictions, with all the sentences to be served concurrently, for an aggregate
sentence of fifty years pursuant to the plea agreement. The court ordered that
the sentence in the instant case be served consecutively to Seats’ sentence under
a different cause number. Seats now appeals his sentence.
Discussion and Decision
 The sole issue Seats presents in this appeal is whether his sentence is
inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and his character.
Particularly, he suggests that his sentence should be revised to forty-five years.
 Although a trial court may have acted within its lawful discretion in imposing a
sentence, article 7, sections 4 and 6 of the Indiana Constitution authorize
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independent appellate review and revision of sentences through Indiana
Appellate Rule 7(B), which provides that we may revise a sentence authorized
by statute if, after due consideration of the trial court’s decision, we determine
that the sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the
character of the offender. Thompson v. State, 5 N.E.3d 383, 391 (Ind. Ct. App.
2014). However, “we must and should exercise deference to a trial court’s
sentencing decision, both because Rule 7(B) requires us to give ‘due
consideration’ to that decision and because we understand and recognize the
unique perspective a trial court brings to its sentencing decisions.” Stewart v.
State, 866 N.E.2d 858, 866 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007). Such deference to the trial
court’s judgment should prevail unless overcome by compelling evidence
portraying in a positive light the nature of the offense (such as accompanied by
restraint, regard, and lack of brutality) and the defendant’s character (such as
substantial virtuous traits or persistent examples of good character). Stephenson
v. State, 29 N.E.3d 111, 122 (Ind. 2015). Thus, the question under Appellate
Rule 7(B) is not whether another sentence is more appropriate; rather, the
question is whether the sentence imposed is inappropriate. King v. State, 894
N.E.2d 265, 268 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008). The defendant bears the burden of
persuading the appellate court that his or her sentence is inappropriate.
Childress v. State, 848 N.E.2d 1073, 1080 (Ind. 2006).
 A plea agreement that does not provide for an open plea but nevertheless
affords the trial court some discretion in sentencing is subject to review under
Rule 7(B). Rivera v. State, 851 N.E.2d 299, 301-02 (Ind. 2006). Such is the case
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herein, where the plea agreement capped Seats’ aggregate sentence at fifty years
but left other aspects of his sentence to the trial court’s discretion.
 To assess whether a sentence is inappropriate, we look first to the statutory
range established for the class of the offenses. Here, Seats was convicted of
murder, for which the advisory sentence is fifty-five years, with a minimum
sentence of forty-five years and a maximum sentence of sixty-five years. Ind.
Code § 35-50-2-3 (2015). In addition, Seats was convicted of three Level 4
felonies, for which the advisory sentence is six years, with a minimum sentence
of two years and a maximum sentence of twelve years. Ind. Code § 35-50-2-5.5
(2014). The court sentenced Seats to fifty years for his murder conviction with
concurrent sentences of eight years for each of the three Level 4 felonies, for an
aggregate sentence of fifty years. Remarkably, Seats’ sentence for his murder
conviction is less than the advisory sentence for such an offense. Indeed, his
aggregate sentence is less than the advisory sentence for murder. Additionally,
although his sentences of eight years on his Level 4 felony convictions are just
slightly above the advisory sentence, they are significantly below the twelveyear maximum for such felonies.
 Next, we look to the nature of the offenses. “The nature of the offense is found
in the details and circumstances surrounding the offense and the defendant’s
participation therein.” Morris v. State, 114 N.E.3d 531, 539 (Ind. Ct. App.
2018), trans. denied (2019). Seats and three of his acquaintances burglarized
three homes. At the second home, the young men encountered the
homeowner, and Seats’ three acquaintances fled. Seats, however, remained
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and confronted the homeowner, shooting him twice and killing him. After
taking Dr. Rodgers’ life, Seats joined his three accomplices in burglarizing yet
another home. Seats has failed to present any evidence that points to the nature
of these offenses that shows he exercised restraint or regard for human life or
the homes or possessions of others.
 Finally, we turn to the character of the offender. The character of the offender
is found in what we learn of the defendant’s life and conduct. Id. The
significance of a criminal history in assessing a defendant’s character and an
appropriate sentence varies based on the gravity, nature, and proximity of prior
offenses in relation to the current offense, as well as the number of prior
offenses. Sandleben v. State, 29 N.E.3d 126, 137 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015), trans.
denied. Yet, even a minor criminal history is a poor reflection of a defendant’s
character. Moss v. State, 13 N.E.3d 440, 448 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied.
 Seats’ criminal history is comprised of a December 2016 true finding of
dangerous possession of a firearm, a Class A misdemeanor if committed by an
adult. Seats committed the offense when he was just fifteen years old, and his
juvenile records with regard to that offense reflect unsuccessful probation,
unsuccessful suspended commitment to the Department of Correction, failure
to complete substance abuse evaluation and treatment, and a failed probation
sanction. In August 2017, at the age of sixteen, Seats added true findings of
seven counts of unauthorized entry of a motor vehicle, all Class B
misdemeanors if committed by an adult, and eight counts of theft, all Class A
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misdemeanors if committed by an adult. He was placed under the supervision
of the juvenile court for nine months with specific conditions for compliance.
 Just two months later in October 2017, while still under the supervision of the
juvenile court, Seats committed the offense of attempted armed robbery, a Level
3 felony. The charge was originally filed in juvenile court but was later re-filed
in adult court. While in custody, Seats’ inmate records reflect two incidents of
jail rule violations, an incident of assault, and an incident of disruption of jail
operations. Just one month later, while still under the supervision of the
juvenile court, Seats committed the instant offenses.
 Seats’ actions upon committing this murder further inform us of his violent
character. Rather than flee with his accomplices, he remained inside Dr.
Rodgers’ home and shot the doctor twice. Then, while Dr. Rodgers lay dying
on his kitchen floor, Seats burglarized the doctor’s home before fleeing and
joining the others in burglarizing a third home. Upon completing this crime
spree, Seats memorialized the occasion by making videos of himself holding the
murder weapon and celebrating.
 In addition, the trial court found Seats failed to show or express any remorse for
his conduct. At sentencing, Seats stated to the court, “You know it felt like
everything was against me first of all. I would just to like [sic] I ain’t had a fair
shake because just everything was against me. I feel like I got railroaded
basically.” Tr. Vol. II, p. 68. In response, the court stated, “Mr. Seats, I am a
little bit disturbed by some of your thought process when you were doing your
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allocution. I’m concerned about how you have processed this whole thing.
What I saw on that video was not somebody that considered themselves a
victim. But that’s what I heard from you today. So, I do not find that there is
any remorse that you’ve shown for what’s happened.” Id. at 75.
 To summarize, the use/misuse of a firearm is a prevalent theme in Seats’
criminal history; his offenses are violent and serious and quickly escalated in
severity; and, even while the juvenile court was expending effort toward his
rehabilitation, he was committing new crimes. Moreover, his callous character
and cavalier attitude toward the taking of a human life is evidenced by the cell
phone photos and videos. We find no compelling evidence of substantial
virtuous traits or persistent examples of good character to support a reduction of
 Seats asserts that, at the time of these crimes, he was a juvenile whose character
and judgment were not fully developed such that he is less culpable than an
adult offender. Therefore, he argues, his sentence is inappropriate and should
 We are mindful that, as our Supreme Court has explained, “[s]entencing
considerations for youthful offenders—particularly for juveniles—are not
coextensive with those for adults.” Brown v. State, 10 N.E.3d 1, 6 (Ind. 2014).
There, the Court determined that a sentence of 150 years for a sixteen-year-old
“‘forswears altogether the rehabilitative ideal.’” Id. at 8 (quoting Miller v.
Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2465, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012)). The
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Court found the sentence to be a “‘denial of hope; it means that good behavior
and character improvement are immaterial; it means that whatever the future
might hold in store for the mind and spirit of the [juvenile] convict, he will
remain in prison for the rest of his days.’” Brown, 10 N.E.3d at 8 (quoting
Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 70, 130 S. Ct. 2011, 176 L. Ed. 2d 825 (2010)).
Accordingly, the Court reduced Brown’s 150-year sentence to eighty years. See
Brown, 10 N.E.3d at 8.
 In contrast, the fifty-year sentence here does not equate to such a denial of
hope. Rather, Seats will, in all likelihood, outlive his sentence such that
behavior modification and character improvement while incarcerated will be
useful. Indeed, in sentencing Seats, the court specifically recommended that he
be afforded the opportunity to participate in any behavioral modification
programs available in the Department of Correction. See Tr. Vol. II, p. 76.
Moreover, the trial court considered Seats’ age in determining his sentence and
found his age to be the sole mitigating circumstance. The trial court also noted
the possible presence of developmental delays but determined they did not
overcome Seats’ ability to be able to tell right from wrong. See id. at 75.
Additionally, Seats’ sentence can hardly be said to be an extreme punishment,
even for a juvenile, when his aggregate sentence for murder and three Level 4
felonies is less than the advisory sentence for the sole offense of murder.
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Outcome: Seats has not met his burden of presenting compelling evidence portraying in a
positive light the nature of his offenses or his character in order to overcome the
trial court’s sentencing decision.