Parish & Cooper

Elkhart County, Indiana
Date of Alleged Crime:  October 29, 1996

Christopher Parish and Keith Cooper were charged with robbery and attempted murder. Two intruders allegedly shot and robbed Michael Kershner in apartment F on the third floor of an apartment building located at 729 Monroe Street in Elkhart. At the time of the shooting five other people were reportedly in the apartment with Kershner. However, despite testimony that Kershner bled profusely in the car which took him to the hospital, investigating officers found no evidence the apartment was the scene of a crime. Cooper, identified as the alleged shooter, was acquitted of the attempted murder, but convicted of the robbery and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Parish was convicted of both charges and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The trial presented a conflict between identification witnesses and alibi witnesses. There were problems with the identifications. Prior to getting Kershner's initial identification, police got two non-critical witnesses to identify Parish. Although Parish was 20 at the time of the crime, Kershner identified him from an array of six photos in which Parish's photo as a 13-year-old was placed alongside photos of much older men in their 20's and 30's. This lineup suggests that police believed the shooter was especially young and that were deliberately trying to get Kershner to identify Parish. By the time of trial, the prosecution lost the photo array and a supplemental report written about Kershner's identification. That it “lost” these items suggests Kershner's initial identification was dubious.

Eddie Love, a reported apartment occupant at the time of the crime and an initial target of the shooter, identified Cooper at his trial, but refused to testify at Parish's trial. Instead Detective Steve Rezutko gave a hearsay account of Love's supposed identification of Parish. When interviewed later by defense investigators, Love, who was 15 at the time of the crime, said Rezutko had intimidated and coerced him into signing a statement identifying Parish as well as falsely identifying Cooper as one of the assailants at Cooper's trial.

The assailant who was the shooter reportedly left behind behind a hat. This hat was identified as belonging to Cooper. The prosecution performed DNA tests on the hat which excluded it from belonging to Cooper. Nevertheless, the prosecution withheld the DNA test results from the defense.

During trial, a prosecution witness, Jermaine Bradley, pulled a stunt that was possibly suggested to him by an experienced member of the prosecution. Bradley claimed on the witness stand that Parish verbally threatened him in the courtroom prior to his testimony. The claim was dubious because: (1) Bradley did not report it until he resumed testimony the following day. (2) The prosecution witnesses were kept segregated and were not milling about in the courtroom. (3) No one else in the courtroom heard the alleged threat. The claim served to prejudice the jury that Parish was a violent person. It was cited by the prosecutor during his closing argument and by the judge at Parish's sentencing. A defense investigator later found two courtroom witnesses who escorted Bradley to the witness stand on the day of the alleged threat. The two stated under oath that Parish did not say anything to Bradley.

Parish had twelve alibi witnesses who could testify that he, his wife, and children were 110 miles away, visiting relatives in Chicago, during the hours surrounding the shooting. Most, but not all were family members. However, Parish's lawyer, Mark Doty, only produced seven of these witnesses at trial, all family members, and subjected them to unnecessary cross-examination by failing to tell them to report the alibi to the police right away. Doty publicly admitted fault for this negligence. Doty also failed to use available evidence to challenge that a crime had even occurred at the victim's apartment.

There is some evidence that Kershner and his friends fabricated the location of the shooting. Two witnesses later said that Kershner was shot in a laundromat parking lot across from the apartment complex. Eddie Love, also, corroborated their account. Parish presumably did not know the reason for the deception, if true, when he wrote the Justice: Denied article referenced below. In its support, Kershner was on home detention at the time of the shooting and presumably did not want the police to know that he was outside his apartment. However, Kershner's family who moved away in 1999 were unaware of case developments until 2008 when contacted by a law clerk handling a civil case against the city of Elkhart. According to Kershner's sister, Chris Smallwood, their family strongly denies the location was fabricated.

In 2005, an appeals court overturned Parish's conviction was and granted him a new trial. In 2006, Cooper was given early release from prison. Also in 2006, prosecutors dropped charges against Parish citing evidence that its witnesses lied at the first trial, making a second trial problematic.  [8/08]


References:  Justice: Denied, 2005 Appeal, Elkhart Truth

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Indiana Cases