Goshen News, Goshen, IN

May 3, 2013

Plea deal nets 65 years for teen killer

By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS

— GOSHEN — A Goshen teen pleaded guilty in Elkhart Circuit Court Thursday to murdering an elderly woman late last year.

Luis A. Bailey, 18, 19751 C.R. 18, admitted he killed Norma Jean Hopper, 76, 54640 Michael Drive, Elkhart, in her home Dec. 21 during a break-in. The murder weapon was a fence post from her yard, Bailey said under questioning.

Bailey will receive a 65-year prison sentence under the terms of his plea deal. In return, prosecutors won’t seek life in prison for Bailey without the possibility of parole.

Authorities have said that at the time of the murder, Bailey was spending the night with his girlfriend, who lived near the Hopper home. The girlfriend later told police Bailey left the residence around 2 a.m.

Responding to questions from Chief Deputy Prosecutor Vicki Becker, Bailey said he went to the Hopper residence.

“I looked in the house from the outside” and saw car keys, Bailey said from the witness stand, a cross hanging from a necklace around his neck. He rang the doorbell, and someone turned lights on.

Bailey left the Hopper home, but later returned. He said he entered through a window, with a post taken from a fence in Hopper’s yard as well as scissors.

“(Hopper) was going to get up out of bed,” Bailey said of what happened when he was inside the home. “...I beat her to death.”

Bailey said he left the home with a bag of change, car keys and jewelry. He drove away from the scene in Hopper’s 1998 Lumina. The vehicle was later found abandoned in Michigan.

Around 10:30 a.m. Dec. 21, Hopper’s niece, Gaylene Beaird, called police. Beaird said she’d entered her aunt’s home and found Hopper dead.

Bailey admitted telling people including his brother and a friend what he’d done. Brought in for questioning, he also told police, and led investigators to the murder weapon.

“Why did you do this?,” Becker asked Bailey of his crime.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Bailey replied. He did indicate he was trying to get money to buy marijuana. The teen also said he suffers from depression and anxiety.

Bailey is due to be sentenced in Circuit Court May 30.

Initial hearing

In other court proceedings, a Bristol man accused of killing his business partner had his initial hearing.

Todd A. Stewart, 35, was arrested Wednesday afternoon on a charge of murder. Prosecutors allege that he killed tattoo shop owner Mark A. Miller, 44, Elkhart in September 2012.

Judge Terry Shewmaker appointed a public defender to represent Stewart. The judge also set a trial date of Sept. 9.

Miller’s body was found in a barrel near the Six Span Bridge in Elkhart on Sept. 20, 2012. Prosecutors say Miller had been shot to death before his body was placed in the barrel.

Earlier this week, Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill stated that a “business associate” of the two men reported seeing Stewart shoot Miller behind the tattoo shop they owned along U.S. 33 in Dunlap. The witness then reportedly helped load Miller’s body into a barrel in the back of Stewart’s pickup truck. Miller’s disappearance was reported by his sister, Dawn Miller, to Elkhart County police Sept. 10.

Stewart is incarcerated in the Elkhart County jail without bond.