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Teen gets life in prison for killing brother

RISING SUN, Ind. -- A judge sentenced teen killer Andrew Conley to spend the rest of his life in prison without parole for strangling his 10-year-old brother.

Judge James Humphrey of Ohio County Circuit Court dismissed nearly every mitigating factor defense attorneys used to try to get the sentence reduced so Conley could one day get out of prison. Conley was 17 years old when he killed his brother. He is now 18.

Humphrey, reading from a prepared statement for about 20 minutes, said Conley knew what he was doing when his killed his little brother in November. He said Conley gave numerous inconsistent statements to police and mental health experts after he was arrested and – most damaging – he lacked remorse for the killing.

Conley sat without moving – as he did throughout most of the five days of his sentencing hearing – at the defense table when the decision was read. He sat with his hands folded in his lap and his head down.

Defense Lawyer Gary Sorge said Conley would appeal the sentencing within the required 30 days.

Conley admitted last month in court he strangled his brother, Conner Conley, on the night of Nov. 28 while their parents were at work.

Conley then dumped his brother’s body, wrapped in a garbage bag, near a trail in a wooded area behind Conner’s school in Rising Sun. He had stopped at his girlfriend’s house for a few hours – with Conner’s body in the trunk of his car – to give her a friendship ring.

Regardless of the judge’s decision, society is not through in its dealings with Conley, said an Indiana University law professor who specializes in juvenile law and the death penalty.

“He is clearly mentally ill, and without treatment he’s going to be as much of a danger in prison as he would be outside,” said Jody Madeira, who teaches at Indiana’s Maurer School of Law in Bloomington. “The prosecution is looking for the maximum sentence, which might not be in society’s best interest.”

Defense and prosecution painted a conflicting portrait of Conley, who pleaded guilty to murder Sept. 13, on what was to have been the first day of his trial.

An exhaustive five-day sentencing hearing followed that plea.

Prosecutors portrayed Conley as a cold-blooded killer – calculating, aware of how wrong his actions was and capable of killing again. The state pushed for a life-without-parole sentence, citing case law in Indiana and decisions by the Indiana Supreme Court that the lives of young crime victims must be protected by longer sentences.

“The court must find that any mitigating circumstances are outweighed by the aggravating circumstance,” Prosecutor Aaron Negangard said, attempting to counter the defense’s request Conley receive a minimum 45-year sentence which could eventually allow parole for good behavior and time served. “Given the defendant’s diminutive size, it was unlikely for him to fulfill his homicidal fantasies on anyone other than his 10-year-old brother.”

Negangard of Dearborn-Ohio counties also noted Conley was within six months of his 18th birthday, which would have made him eligible for the death penalty.

Defense lawyers Gary Sorge and John Watson, cited other Indiana court decisions and detailed other factors to bolster their claim Conley deserved the lightest sentence possible.

They said in court that a stepfather raped Conley at age 7 or 8. The same man physically abused Conley’s mother and walked around the house in front of Conley with a gun in his mouth, threatening to kill himself if Conley’s mother, Bridget, left him, lawyers said.

“Based on all of the mitigators presented, Mr. Conley should be sentenced to 45 years in prison, the statutory minimum for murder,” Sorge and Watson said. “Mr. Conley’s age is a significant mitigator under the life-without-parole analysis.”

On the night of Nov. 28, with their parents working overnight shifts at area riverboat casinos, the brothers wrestled. Conley put his brother in a forearm choke hold from behind, causing him to lose consciousness.

He dragged his brother into the kitchen – where Conner’s blood would clean easier from the tile floor than from carpet – knelt over him and strangled him for a good 20 minutes, he told investigators.

He then placed a white plastic shopping back over Conner’s head and fastened it with black electrician’s tape. He then dragged his brother feet first down a flight of steps.

Before hoisting his brother’s lifeless body into the trunk of his 1995 Honda Accord, Conley retrieved a black garbage bag and put it over Conner.

Conley told police he was a fan of the television drama “Dexter,” about a forensic lab worker turned serial killer who hunts criminals who slip through the legal system. Conley also told police he had fantasized about killing someone since he was in eighth grade..

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