On October 29, 1996, police were called to a third-floor apartment in Elkhart, Indiana, where Michael Kershner and several friends reported that two gunmen had burst in and robbed them. Kershner was wounded by a gunshot in the abdomen.
During the investigation, one of the witnesses, Eddie Love, 15, identified Keith Cooper as the gunman and Christopher Parish, 20, as his accomplice. Two other witnesses also identified Parish from a photo lineup.
Cooper was tried first. A judge hearing the case without a jury acquitted Cooper of attempted murder, but convicted him of robbery resulting in serious bodily injury. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In 1998, Parish went on trial. He was identified by Kershner and the other eyewitnesses. Seven witnesses, all family members, testified for Parish and said he was in Chicago at the time of the shooting. A jury convicted Parish and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
After his conviction was affirmed on appeal in 1999, Parish filed a petition for post-conviction relief in 2002, which was amended in 2004. At a hearing on the petition, Parish presented evidence that his trial attorney had failed to adequately investigate the case prior to trial.
He presented evidence that showed that Kershner was shot in the parking lot outside the building and falsely reported it as occurring in the apartment because he was on home detention for a gun charge. Love testified that police coerced him to identify Parish. Further a crime scene technician said he found no blood in the apartment although Kershner was bleeding from his gunshot wound.
In addition, DNA tests conducted after Parish’s trial on a hat found inside the apartment, which the prosecution argued at trial belonged to Cooper, showed not Cooper’s DNA, but that of a man who was convicted in 2002 of attempted murder and was serving a 62-year sentence in a Michigan prison.
Parish also presented evidence that there were 12 alibi witnesses who could account for his whereabouts, including at least one who was not a family member.
The trial court, however, denied the petition.
On December 6, 2005, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the trial court, set aside the verdict and ordered a new trial, finding that Parish had received ineffective assistance of counsel. By not investigating the possibility that the shooting occurred outside the apartment, Parish was denied an opportunity to undermine eyewitness accounts that the shooting took place inside the apartment, the court ruled. The charges against Parish were then dismissed.
At the time, Cooper had a petition for a new trial pending. The judge offered him a choice of overturning the conviction and a possible retrial or a sentence modification allowing immediate release. Cooper chose the sentence modification.
Parish filed a wrongful conviction lawsuit and on October 27, 2010, a civil jury awarded him $78,125 in damages. A total of $191,000 in attorney’s fees and costs also were assessed.
Parish's attorneys appealed the damage award, arguing that it was too low. In December 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit set aside the damage award and sent the case back for a new trial on damages, ruling that the trial judge had improperly barred evidence of Parish's innocence to be presented to the jury.
– Maurice Possley