2018-02-07 / Front Page

Good, solid police investigation leads to guilty verdict for Haas

By Debbie Lowe
Staff writer

Sheriff’s Deputies Tony Liggett and Kevin Hammond Sheriff’s Deputies Tony Liggett and Kevin Hammond Carroll County chalked up a murder when Richard M. Houchin, 62, of Deer Creek was found dead in his home from two 22-caliber gunshot wounds to the head Aug. 10. County dispatch received a call that day at roughly 10:48 a.m. from Houchin’s former wife and current fiancé Tracy Houchin. The couple had previously been married 17 years.

County Deputy Mitchell Catron was first on the scene from the Sheriff’s Department shortly after the 911 call was received. He was joined by Detective Tony Liggett before 1 p.m. Det. Kevin Hammond joined Liggett around 4 p.m. that day. A suspect, James L. Haas, was identified, found and interviewed.

Tracy Houchin said she had ended a relationship with Haas before her former husband was killed. Haas’ brother came forward Aug. 11 and told Liggett he had been approached by Haas to help kill Houchin.

According to police reports, Haas tried to make the crime scene look like “a robbery gone bad” and had stolen some jewelry from the home. The jewelry was found by a county resident, along with a coat which contained two spent shell casings and a live bullet, in or near the Wabash River at French Post Park, on Aug. 19. A second community member found a two-shot, 22-caliber Derringer in Rock Creek, where it runs into the Wabash River, also at French Post Park the day after the murder. He turned the items in on Aug. 28 after he read about the murder in the Carroll County Comet and said he wondered if what he found had anything to do with the crime.

Houchin was shot twice with 22-caliber bullets. Liggett told the Comet Monday, the shell casings found matched the bullets taken from Houchin’s body. Haas’ stepdaughter said he admitted to her he had committed the crime. Haas also tried to recruit someone he knew in Tennessee to help him kill Houchin. Liggett drove to the Tennessee location to verify the allegation.

Liggett said there were no surprises at the trial, which began with jury selection, Monday, Jan. 29, and concluded, Friday, Feb. 2, with a murder conviction. Hammond reported Haas “lawyer-ed up” the day he was arrested, Aug. 11. He was never interviewed again by law enforcement. Hammond said he never confessed, however when he was interviewed before he was arrested, he locked himself into a story about the events of the day of the commission of the crime.

Nick McLeland was initially appointed by the court to represent Haas and Patrick Manahan was later appointed co-counsel. McLeland left the case after he was appointed Carroll County Prosecutor. Former Tippecanoe County Prosecutor John T. Myers was appointed special prosecutor in the case.

The detectives reported the jury took roughly 45 minutes to render a verdict Haas was guilty of murder. The Prosecutor did not pursue the death penalty. Detectives Liggett and Hammond explained, per state statute, the murder conviction carries a minimum 45 year-sentence and he must serve at least 75 percent of the sentence. Therefore, Haas must serve approximately 34 years, which both detectives agreed “is essentially a life sentence.”

“This is just the very minimum sentence he can get,” Liggett said.

“I’m just glad justice was served,” Hammond said. “The family has closure now.”

Houchin’s family includes his parents, his ex-wife, three adult biological children, and three adult stepchildren.

“This took a lot of investigation on the parts of several law enforcement agencies,” Liggett said. “The Indiana State Police Crime Scene Investigation team estimate they spent approximately 30 hours at the scene of the crime.”

“This was a five-month investigation,” Sheriff Leazenby added. “Kevin (Hammond) worked it about 60 hours per week at the very beginning of the investigation and Tony (Liggett) spent at least 80 hours per week for most of the investigation. Kevin was still working the double homicide and went back to it full-time after about two weeks after the murder.”

“Both Kevin and myself assisted Tony throughout the length of the investigation,” the Sheriff continued. “I had meetings with Tony and others and I provided guidance and supervision when requested or was needed. This was a labor-intensive investigation that took a lot of man-hours to achieve a conviction.”

“This was Tony’s big case and he did a helluva job,” Hammond said.

“I am very proud of what both of our detectives did in this investigation,” Leazenby concluded. “I really appreciate the hard work Tony put into this. It made all of the difference.”

Haas is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 26 at 1:30 p.m. in Carroll Circuit Court.

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