Tibbs seeks new trial in Rayna Rison murder
La PORTE – The man locked up for the 1993 slaying of 16-year-old Rayna Rison may be granted a new murder trial if his attorneys can convince the judge one is warranted.
Jason Tibbs appeared Monday with his new defense team in La Porte Circuit Court, where they asked Judge Thomas Alevizos to rehear the case.
Merrillville-based attorneys Scott King and Russell Brown cited ineffective counsel in Tibbs’ first trial as the basis for their request, claiming Tibbs’ former attorneys, Scott Pejic and John Tompkins, possessed – but did not present to the jury – evidence that may prove another man committed the murder.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Brown claims a forensic report by an FBI agent shows that fibers found in Rayna’s hair after her body was recovered are consistent with the carpet in a vehicle belonging to Ray McCarty.
McCarty, Rayna’s brother-in-law, was convicted of having molested Rayna in 1990. He was charged with her murder in 1998, but the case was dismissed 16 months later when the La Porte County Prosecutor’s office claimed they lacked sufficient evidence. McCarty committed suicide inside a St. Joseph County Jail cell in February of this year while being held on an unrelated charge.
Tibbs, Rayna’s ex-boyfriend, was charged with her murder in 2013. He was convicted by a jury in 2014 and sentenced to 40 years in prison. The state appellate court denied Tibbs’ appeal of his conviction in 2016.
Brown said Wednesday that the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s conviction on the basis that no direct evidence had been presented linking McCarty to Rayna’s murder.
“The FBI report was never presented to the jury, and we think that’s important,” Brown said, “because there were several other pieces of evidence that pointed to Ray McCarty that weren’t allowed into evidence without a lynchpin to connect McCarty. … We believe that scientific evidence creates that lynchpin, that direct connection.”
The defense also takes issue with the testimony of Eric Freeman, a key witness in the case who told the jury in 2014 that he saw Tibbs strangle Rayna and dump her body in a pond off Range Road after she declined to begin dating him again.
“It’s our belief that it’s clear that Eric Freeman was coached in his statement, and his testimony basically went along with what his statement was,” Brown said Wednesday. “And the jury was never provided that information. … We believe that had the jury properly heard that, the outcome may have been different.”
In a written response to Tibbs’ petition, deputy prosecutor Julianne K. Havens wrote in 2017 that Tibbs could have raised these concerns during the direct appeal of his case, but chose not to do so.
She says his failure to have included the information about McCarty’s vehicle fibers and the transcript of Freeman’s interview with detectives during his direct appeal prohibits him from using them as grounds to receive a new trial now.
A representative of the La Porte County Prosecutor’s Office did not respond immediately to a request for comment Wednesday.
At Tibbs’ hearing Monday, the judge took the matter under advisement.
Alevizos set an Oct. 9 deadline for both the defense and the state to submit to him findings of fact and the corresponding case laws to support their arguments regarding why Tibbs should or should not be afforded a new trial.
Tibbs continues to serve his 40-year incarceration at the Pendleton Correctional Facility as he awaits Alevizos’ ruling.