Appeals court overturns attempted murder conviction for Greenwood man

Just a few words led an appellate judge to overturn a Greenwood man’s attempted murder conviction.

After a two-day trial held in March 2021, Andrew Phillip McQuinn, 29, was convicted on all counts — attempted murder, a Level 1 felony; possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, a Level 4 felony; domestic battery committed in the presence of a child less than 16 and theft of a firearm, both Level 6 felonies; as well as misdemeanor possession of a handgun without a license — before Johnson County Superior Court 2 Judge Peter Nugent.

The appellate court opinion issued Wednesday by Judge Leanna Weissmann overturns the conviction for attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon. Convictions for the two other charges still stand.

McQuinn allegedly shot at Bargersville police officer Klint Brown following a domestic battery incident on Feb. 9, 2020. Several witnesses said McQuinn shot at Brown when the officer arrived about 8 p.m. that night at Clary Crossing Apartments in Bargersville.

There was no debate during the trial about the charge of domestic violence against McQuinn’s then-partner in the presence of a child. The debate was over whether McQuinn intended to shoot Brown, or if he was just drunk and shooting into the air.

Evidence including Brown’s testimony that the gun appeared to be pointed at him, and McQuinn’s own words recorded on camera regarding his actions that night were taken into account by the jury for the conviction.

McQuinn and his attorney, Stacy Uliana, appealed three aspects of the trial and charges filed against him and Weissmann agreed in the opinion that there was merit for two of their arguments.

An issue with the wording for jury instructions brought into question whether they made an appropriate decision based on the specific circumstances of this case, the opinion says.

“Amid disputed evidence as to McQuinn’s intent in firing the gun, the trial court instructed the jury that the direction of the gunfire could be ‘substantial evidence’ of McQuinn’s intent to kill,” the opinion reads. “Under the specific facts of this case, we find this instruction invaded the province of the jury to determine the weight of the evidence and undermined McQuinn’s defense that he did not have the specific intent required for attempted murder.”

Weissmann also agreed that McQuinn was not given adequate opportunity to waive his right to a separate trial on upgrading his firearms charge based on a prior conviction, the opinion says.

The appellate judge did not agree that McQuinn’s convictions for carrying a handgun without a license and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon constitute double jeopardy, or charging someone with the same criminal act twice, the opinion says.

Johnson County Prosecutor Joe Villanueva said he respects the judge’s opinion but doesn’t think different jury instructions would have changed the outcome of this case.

“It was a procedural issue in the court providing a particular instruction to the jury. The appellate court acknowledged our evidence was ‘more compelling.’ However, they still chose to grant a reversal because they could not be ‘completely confident’ that the jury might not have been swayed by that single instruction out of the total group of instructions,” Villanueva said in an email. “Based on the evidence the state presented, and our conversations with the jurors afterward, I am confident that was not really the case. However, we respect the court’s decision and will present that same evidence again at the appropriate time in seeking to hold McQuinn fully accountable for his actions.”

With the conviction overturned, a new local trial will need to take place. A date has not been set, and with the end of the year approaching, the trial may be handled by the next administration.

Villanueva is leaving the office at the end of the year, as he lost his bid for the Republican nomination to Lance Hamner, former Superior Court 3 judge and former prosecutor from 1991 to 2008. Hamner is unopposed in the general election.

“If the case falls into the next administration, it will be their responsibility, and I will be happy to share my knowledge of the case if requested,” Villanueva said. “If it is set before the end of the year then we will handle it.”