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State wants execution date set for convicted Fort Wayne murderer

Allen County Courthouse
public records
Joseph Corcoran

The State of Indiana wants to set an execution date for convicted murderer Joseph Corcoran.

The Fort Wayne man, now 49, was convicted of killing four people in 1998. Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull sentenced him to death for the murders of his brother James Corcoran, his sister’s fiancé Robert Scott Turner, and two of their friends: Timothy Bricker and Douglas Stillwell.

In July 1997, a 22-year-old Joseph Corcoran was upstairs in a Fort Wayne home where he lived when he heard men's voices below. He thought they were talking about him and took a semi-automatic rifle downstairs. He shot his brother, Turner, and Bricker at close range. Stillwell tried to escape, but Corcoran chased him into the kitchen and shot him.

Offered a guilty plea or a bench trial in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, Corcoran went ahead with a jury trial after nine months of negotiations. His lawyers intended to argue he was insane at the time of the shootings, but after evaluations from court-appointed psychiatrists found him to be competent to stand trial, that request was withdrawn, according to court documents.

An Allen County Superior Court jury convicted him on all counts and he was sentenced to death in August 1999.

After he was sentenced to death, Corcoran repeatedly flip-flopped on his appeals, first refusing to sign a petition for post-conviction relief saying he should be put to death. In 2003, defense attorneys presented evidence he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and court officials acknowledged the same, according to court documents.

Multiple versions of his case —Corcoran I to Corcoran V — that have made their way through through the state appeals courts, federal appeals courts, up to the U.S. Supreme Court and back down again. Issues raised have been his mental health, whether his rights were violated over the request he have a bench trial,

A final appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was denied in 2016, but no execution date has ever been set.

Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita want to change that, and on Wednesday afternoon asked the Indiana Supreme Court to set a date to put him to death.

In the years since Corcoran was sentenced and his final appeals were denied, issues arose around the use of lethal injection as a method of execution.

Certain drugs became harder to come by, with the primary drug use — sodium thiopental — no longer manufactured.

A 2020 investigationby NPR reviewing more than 200 autopsies — obtained through public records requests — showed signs of pulmonary edema in 84% of the cases. The findings were similar across the states and, notably, across the different drug protocols used.

That meant the drugs did not allow for a quick and painless death.

And in 2021, pentobarbital was also in short supply. It replaced sodium thiopental as the drug of choice for lethal injections.

In a press release announcing their request, Holcomb and Rokita says they have now reacquired the drug pentobarbital used in executions.

According to its motion filed Wednesday in the Indiana Supreme Court, the state says they are unaware of any pending requests to review Corcoran’s case.

Holcomb says he is “fulfilling his duties as governor” to move forward with the execution.

Rebecca manages the news at WBOI. She joined the staff in December 2017, and brought with her nearly two decades of experience in print journalism, including 15 years as an award-winning reporter for the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne.