Zionsville’s James Hughes’ plea: Guilty but mentally ill vs not guilty by reason of insanity


Pleading guilty but mentally ill is not the same as pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. With the latter, also referred to as insanity plea or insanity defense, the defendant may serve his or her sentence in a mental health facility.

On the other hand, a defendant who pleads guilty but mentally ill and one who simply pleads guilty will get the same sentence for the same crime. The difference is that by pleading guilty but mentally ill, the defendant may be given more mental health services while he or she is in prison.

One example is the case of James Earl Hughes, 26, of Zionsville, Boone County, Indiana, United States. On April 28, 2019, he fatally shot his fellow Zionsville resident Samuel T. Bennett, 23, near Zionsville Town Hall and the Big Four Rail Trail in Zionsville.

James Earl Hughes (©Boone County Sheriff's Office)
James Earl Hughes (©Boone County Sheriff’s Office)

Authorities do not believe Hughes and Bennett knew one another. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) linked the suspect to the Charter Arms .357 revolver left near the body of the victim.

“We cannot find any connection between the two and have no reason to believe they knew each other,” Boone County prosecutor Kent Eastwood stated. “Everything in this case points to them not knowing each other and that this was likely a random act.”


According to Eastwood, it was clear Hughes had some type of mental breakdown the day he fatally shot Bennett. However, Hughes’ mental breakdown did not rise to the level of insanity, Eastwood said.

Before the day of the shooting, Hughes had a history of mental health issues. Hours after shooting Bennett, Hughes checked himself into the St. Vincent Indianapolis Stress Center in Indianapolis, Indiana.


While at the center, Hughes used a pair of New Balance shoes, which matched the footprints found near the place where he fatally shot Bennett. Upon Hughes’ release from the center, he was arrested in Indianapolis and booked into the Boone County Jail in Lebanon, Indiana.

On August 26, 2021, Hughes signed a plea deal designating him as guilty but mentally ill to a murder charge and the plea agreement calls for a 50-year sentence with supervised probation for two years after prison. On September 28, 2021, he will be sentenced before Boone Superior Court I Judge Matthew Kincaid.

3 replies »

  1. I find it interesting that full blooded Sociopaths are now being labeled as “mentally ill” like they have some type of disease and shouldn’t be punished accordingly. Outrageous.


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