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United States v. Bell

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 17, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
William Bell and Lenard Dixon, Defendants-Appellants.

Argued October 27, 2015.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division. No. 2:13-cr-00021-JMS-CMM- Jane E. Magnus-Stinson, Judge.

Before Kanne and Rovner, Circuit Judges and Bruce, District Judge.[*]

Rovner, Circuit Judge.

A jury convicted William Bell and Lenard Dixon of first-degree murder and being an accessory after the fact to the murder, respectively, in the death of a fellow inmate at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Each appeals the sufficiency of the evidence underlying his conviction: Bell contends in particular that the evidence is insufficient to establish that he premeditated the murder, and Dixon contends that the evidence is insufficient to establish that he aided Bell with the intent to prevent Bell from being held to account for the murder. Bell additionally challenges the decision to admit evidence concerning an inculpatory statement he made regarding the murder, and Dixon challenges the decision to shackle his legs during the trial. We affirm the convictions.


In 2011, Bell and Dixon were cellmates in the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. The cell they shared was located on the ground floor in Unit E-1 of the Terre Haute facility, a two-level unit which was triangular in shape and housed some 121 inmates. Inmate cells occupied two legs of the triangle, with correctional staff offices and activity, shower, and laundry rooms occupying the third leg. A recreational "day room" occupied the center of the unit. Six security cameras were positioned throughout the tier, and although none were positioned so as to record activity occurring within individual cells (except as might be revealed by an open cell door), the cameras did record what occurred in the common area of the tier outside of the cells. Video recorded on the evening of June 18, 2011, revealed the following sequence of events.

At approximately 6:45 p.m., Bell emerged from Cell 103, the cell that he shared with Dixon, and walked two doors down to Cell 105, which was occupied by Brian Pendelton. Bell was wearing a white t-shirt and khaki pants, and he appeared to have something in his right hand, which he kept in his pants pocket as he walked toward Pendelton's cell. When Bell arrived at Cell 105, he opened the cell door with his left hand, keeping his right hand in his pocket. He then entered the cell and closed the door behind him.

In the meantime, Dixon emerged from Cell 103, milled around the cell doorway for a moment, and eventually sat down in a chair just outside of the cell, facing a television in the day room. At one point, while Bell was inside of Cell 105, it appears from the video that Dixon turned to look in the direction of that cell.

Bell emerged from Cell 105 roughly 70 seconds after he entered. When he left the cell, he was shirtless and carrying a t-shirt in his right hand. In his left hand, it appears he was carrying a long, slender object. Bell walked, unhurried, back to his own cell. As he approached, Dixon arose from his chair and entered Cell 103 ahead of Bell.

Dixon re-emerged from Cell 103 some 25 seconds later and walked to Cell 113 near the end of the row of cells, carrying clothing in his right hand. His path took him directly by Pendelton's cell, number 105, the door to which was open.

Pendelton was struggling to lift himself off the floor and walk out of his cell as Dixon passed. He was, according to witness testimony, bleeding profusely from a stab wound to the left carotid artery on his neck. From the video recording, it appears that Dixon turned in the direction of Pendelton and the open door to Cell 105 as he walked by, but Dixon continued walking without pause toward the end of the row.

When he arrived at Cell 113, Dixon stepped inside for a period of approximately 20 seconds. The door to the cell was ajar during that period, and another inmate could be seen on the video surveillance standing near the cell's sink. Dixon left the cell again carrying clothing, walked to a trash can in the eastern portion of the day room and placed the clothing in the trash can underneath other objects already in it, and fluffed the trash on top before walking away.

At that point in time, Bell left Cell 103, clad once again in a white t-shirt and carrying a towel, and proceeded to one of the showers along the south portion of the unit.

Pendelton, meanwhile, after emerging from Cell 105 bleeding, had collapsed on the day room floor as he tried unsuccessfully to reach a correctional staff officer who was walking out of his office in response to a panic alarm Pendelton had sounded. Prison staff came to his aid but were unsuccessful in saving his life. An autopsy would later disclose that he bled to death from the stab wound to his left neck; he also had two superficial stab wounds to his back that likely were non-fatal.

In the immediate aftermath of Pendelton's collapse, prison authorities locked down Unit E-1. A number of inmates had been watching television and engaging in other activities in the common area of the unit; they were ordered back to their cells. Pendelton's cellmate was in one of the showers at that time; he was locked in the shower while correctional staff members went about verifying that all inmates were present and sweeping the area for evidence. ...

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