Bench trial begins for teen accused in Grace Ross murder

Published: Jan. 22, 2023 at 10:41 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The bench trial for a teen charged with allegedly murdering a child in New Carlisle began on Monday morning.

Anthony Hutchens, 16, has been charged with two counts of murder and one count of child molestation for his role in the March 2021 death of Grace Ross, 6, of New Carlisle.

Hutchens is being tried as an adult.

Ross’ stepfather, friend testify

The prosecution called seven witnesses, ranging from family to police to the forensic pathologist who performed Ross’ autopsy and further medical examination.

On March 12th, 2021, Matthew Penn, Ross’ stepfather, told Hon. Jeffrey Sanford he grew concerned when Grace hadn’t returned from playing outside with her friend. After calling his wife - Grace’s mother - Penn said they asked neighbors to help them search for the 6 year old. Police were ultimately called, he said.

The prosecution called upon Grace’s friend, now 9, who is possibly one of the last few people to see Ross alive. She testified that Anthony Hutchens, the suspect, had been playing with them at their apartment complex playground. She reportedly last saw Grace when she followed the friend partway home.

Drone detects Ross in woods, medical exams indicate possible strangulation and sexual assault

St. Joseph County Police Officer Jess Fisher stated in the courtroom that he was a New Carlisle officer at the time when he responded to a missing child call on March 12th, 2021. Fisher said he had learned Grace was last seen going into a wooded area near her apartment complex.

A drone with infrared capabilities detected Ross’ body in the woods, and when medics discovered her, Fisher said she was already dead.

Fisher added he spoke with Anthony Hutchens and his mother, learning Hutchens had been with Grace.

Dr. Jared Brooks, a board-certified forensic pathologist, performed Ross’ autopsy and medical examination shortly after her March 2021 death. He confirmed the injuries were caused by possible smothering and/or strangulation. Ross said the child was also sexually assault.

What to expect Tuesday

The prosecution plans to call two additional witnesses on Tuesday. Defense attorney Jeff Kimmell told 16 News Now he doesn’t have any witnesses scheduled to testify.

Both sides anticipate the trial concluding on Tuesday. Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Fronk said he expects Hon. Sanford to take the testimony and evidence “under advisement” and issue a ruling on Hutchens’ charges within a week or two.

The sentencing range for murder is 45 to 65 years. The sentencing range for a Level 3 felony, such as child molestation, is three to 16 years.

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