Rainbolt sentenced in January 2017 murder

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

Joshuah Rainbolt, 21, Campbellsburg, faced Judge Larry Medlock to be sentenced for the murder of his roommate, Blake Box-Skinner, in January 2017. He entered the courtroom in chains and left the same way, facing a sentence of 60 years with five years suspended.

“This is about hiding,” said Prosecutor Dustin Houchin. “This has been about hiding from the beginning. The sentencing will be about what happened after the murder.”
Rainbolt pled guilty to shooting Box-Skinner with a shotgun and then hiding his body in a shed behind the home they shared on Lost River Road before disposing of the gun in the White River.

Box-Skinner’s body was found by his uncle, Indiana State Trooper Jonathan Cain. Cain spoke at the hearing, saying the shed stood out because it was the only outbuilding with a closed door. After moving debris and detritus that held the door closed, Cain said he opened the door and “I saw legs,” he said.

A clothes washer was laying on top of Box-Skinner’s head and torso. Cain moved the washer to find the rest of his nephew’s body, surrounded by cardboard boxes and bags of items in storage. Photos were shown in court of a young man with his legs propped up on boxes and his head toward the opening of the shed, wearing a pair of jeans and a brown coat. When the picture was about to be show, Cain, on the stand, shook his head at the gathering of family and friends and mouthed, “Don’t look.”

After finding his nephew, Cain said he walked around to the front of the home, where his sister, Carol Box and his wife were standing.

“I couldn’t tell my sister,” he said. “She read my face and my expression and she dropped to her knees and wept.”

“You’ve hurt us so bad,” said Carol Box, Box-Skinner’s mother, staring hard at Rainbolt as she took the stand. “Now I get to look you in the face. I’ve been at every hearing and you’ve never looked at me.”

She said she had yet to see any real remorse for what happened that night.

“I remember when Josh stood before you,” she told Medlock. “There were no tears, no remorse, no shaky voice. When you asked him twice if he understood what he was pleading guilty to, he said, ‘yes, Judge,’ with no emotion. Today, I feel if there are any tears, they are only an act to garner leniency.”

You can read more testimony given by the family and friends of Box-Skinner here.

Detective Joshua Banet led the investigation into Box-Skinner’s death.

He said Rainbolt undertook multiple actions to hide his crime and admitted to hiding the body in a shed.

“Tell me why he’s out there in that shed,” a detective says to Rainbolt in a recorded interview shown in the courtroom. Rainbolt seemed to try to physically hide from the question, covering his face in his hood. He said, through tears, that he had done it to keep animals away.

He also admitted to throwing the gun he used to commit the crime into the White River, though dive teams were unable to ever find the gun. Banet said they don’t know the make or model of the gun, but the shot and wadding were Remington and the wadding determined that the shotgun was a 12-gauge. Other guns were recovered from the residence, but none were the murder weapon. At the time, it was determined that Box-Skinner owned guns, which were kept in a safe, but that Rainbolt did not have any guns.

Throughout the investigation, Rainbolt told several stories to law enforcement about what had happened the night of the murder. At first, he claimed to not know what happened.

“What’s got me upset?” Rainbolt asked during a recorded interview. “The fact my best friend’s dead!”

Then the shooting was accidental, with various scenarios depicting himself and Box-Skinner at different distances from each other, up to 15 feet away. He told investigators he thought he was shooting at a raccoon. He told officers he’d dropped the shotgun and sometimes that it had just gone off. As he came to admit he was at least somewhat responsible, he began to cover his face with his hood and physically hide. Much of what he said on the video was difficult to understand through his sobbing. The probation department counted 12 different stories told to police.

The evidence tells a story of Rainbolt being very close to Box-Skinner, Banet said. Pieces of Remington #7.5 birdshot, along with wadding, were found in the wound to the back of Box-Skinner’s head. There was next to no spread of the birdshot, leading examiners to determine the end of the gun barrel was within a few inches of Box-Skinner’s head. Along with this, there was soot inside the wound and seared skin, meaning the flame that shoots out from the end of a gun during firing had to have been in contact with the skin. Subsequent tests run by Banet showed with two different shotguns with different barrel lengths showed that the flame spreads out between four and six inches from the end of the barrel.

“There was a penetrating shotgun wound to the occipital head, most consistent with close-range firing through hair-bearing scalp with injuries,” reads the pathologist report admitted into evidence. Evidence also showed that the bullet traveled straight-on, into the back of the head, maybe slightly to the right.

“So the barrel was on horizontal level with the head?” Houchin asked.

“Yes,” Banet answered.

Banet told the court during Clark’s questioning there was no other trauma found on Box-Skinner’s body.

Prosecutor Dustin Houchin painted a picture of a young man unwilling to tell the truth about what happened, who showed no remorse for shooting his friend or hiding the body in a shed among bags of trash and other detritus, who used illegal drugs every day, flouting the law and even using the victim’s phone after he died to orchestrate his purchase of more drugs for himself.

Defense attorney Mark Clark presented a different view. He called Dr. Bart Ferraro to the stand. The clinical psychologist examined Rainbolt and said Rainbolt’s ability to cope with stressors was significantly impaired. While in calm, structured environments, Rainbolt displayed average intelligence and an advanced ability for abstract thought, but when faced with complexity, his first instinct was to avoid and escape. When he was faced with something he couldn’t avoid, Ferraro said, he would experience an “internal collapse” and may not be able to explain what happened or express remorse in a recognizable way. He said Rainbolt was far more likely to become passive-aggressive than act out violently and friends Clark called to the stand confirmed that Rainbolt had not exhibited violent behavior around them.

Clark said Jasmyn Price, who once lived with Box-Skinner and Rainbolt, had described Rainbolt as “a teddy bear” who was loving and kind.

She said she didn’t know what could have caused the shooting to take place. “I could not see Josh getting mad about something to the extent he wouldn’t calm himself down before killing his best friend.”

“I was devastated,” said Derian Mahan, who also lived with the Rainbolt and Box-Skinner for a time. “It was never what we had expected. They were like brothers.”

You can read more about Ferraro’s analysis here, and testimony from friends and Rainbolt’s aunt, Victoria Britton, along with Rainbolt himself here.

Houchin said again that the case was about hiding — hiding the body, the gun, facts from friends and family, facts from the police.

“He hides behind false remorse and a psychological report that’s not credible,” Houchin said. “You can stop the hiding today, Judge … Only one person knows why this happened and it’s not that he can’t tell, but that he won’t.”

Houchin argued the advisory sentence (55 years) with the aggravating factors would come out to 65 years in prison.

“He deserves that,” Houchin said. “He may not be the worst of the worst, but this was a horrific act. This family has to live with how he behaved and how he disrespected Blake. How he hid his body in a shed full of trash because that’s how the defendant saw him.”

Clark argued that Houchin continued to exhibit anger about Rainbolt not telling what happened.

“Not being able to explain is different than not telling,” he said. “You can’t make that an aggravating factor because people are angry. They didn’t reconstruct the scene. They had the resources and they didn’t do it. They just brought him in and told him to tell them what happened.”

He accused the state of rejecting the defense’s offering of an explanation for why Rainbolt apparently showed no remorse.

“This whole case has been about what happened after,” he said. “Why he’s terrible, why he has no remorse. When we give an alternative explanation, they reject it. I believe Joshuah Rainbolt has expressed remorse, Judge. The court can consider if he expressed remorse before, but he has today. Again, a lack of remorse reflects disdain and that’s not what we saw today.”

Medlock then went into his office to consider the case the attorneys presented.

You can read more about the arguments made for aggravating and mitigating factors here.

By around 8 p.m., the judge returned with his decision.

“A group of young people with no goals, some with no jobs, smoking dope daily, is a recipe for disaster and, in this case, tragedy,” Medlock said, referencing the friend group both Box-Skinner and Rainbolt were a part of. “The lifestyle you lived resulted in the loss of life of your friend, Blake Box-Skinner. You’ve done irreparable harm to his family and to yours.”

He said he agreed that there was no criminal history and that Rainbolt did plead guilty to the murder of Box-Skinner. He said he would grant Rainbolt’s show of remorse in the courtroom that day, whether remorse for the situation or sincerely for what he did, but wouldn’t place much weight on that. He also didn’t consider Rainbolt’s difficult childhood as a mitigating factor.

“I don’t know many people who had a fairytale childhood,” he said. “I’ve known young people who grew up in bad circumstances who have conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion.”

While Medlock said he agreed Rainbolt was not the worst of the worst, he didn’t consider it a mitigating factor, nor did he consider his young age a mitigating factor.

“The loss felt by the victim was significant and more than necessary to prove offense,” Medlock said. “Efforts to conceal were significant, whether due to a coping mechanism or not … You put the body in the shed with trash, covered with a washer. The shotgun ended up in the river. You told multiple stories to law enforcement and multiple representations to Blake’s family and friends.”

The way the shotgun was used, execution-style, was another thing Medlock said counted against Rainbolt. He also considered Rainbolt’s lengthy history of substance abuse an aggravating factor, but not one with much weight to it.

“The aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors,” said Medlock, adding that the probation department advised a 60-year sentence with none of it suspended. However, Medlock handed down a sentence of 60 years with five years suspended, translating into 55 years in prison, with five years of, essentially, probation. By law, he must serve 75 percent of his sentence.

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