State of Iowa v. Antonio SheleySheley was charged with robbing $850 from the Holiday Inn Downtown in September 2007. Immediately prior to trial Sheley stipulated that he committed the robbery, but denied he had a gun. This concession effectively shortened the trial by more than one day, leaving only the issue of a gun to be resolved. The prosecution’s principal evidence came in the form of the hotel videotape and the hotel registration clerk’s testimony. Although grainy in quality, the videotape showed Sheley at the registration desk and showed him putting his hand in his right pants pocket and motioning with his hand in a gesture that appeared to threaten he had a gun. The hotel desk clerk had had weapons training as a member of the National Guard and had served one year in Iraq. She testified that she saw what appeared to be the black handle of a pistol in the defendant’s pocket. Cross-examination focused on the desk clerk’s short stature, the 4-foot high desk counter between her and the defendant, and the fact the defendant’s body was flush against the desk counter—seeking to prove the desk clerk could not see the defendant’s pants pocket. The cross examination asked one question too many—the witness stated she not only saw what appeared to be the handle of a pistol but also saw “the hammer” of the gun. Cross examination of the police detective who reviewed the videotape was more effective, forcing him to admit he had not seen a gun and that he “guessed” the defendant had a gun on him. The defendant did not testify.
Closing arguments concluded late on Tuesday and the jury reached its verdict Wednesday morning. It found Sheley guilty of first degree robbery, a forcible felony with a mandatory 25-year sentence. The defendant must serve a minimum of seventy percent of this sentence (17.5 years) before he can be considered for parole. Sheley had gambled and lost. The State had made a plea offer whereby he would plead to second degree robbery (10 years) and a habitual offender enhancement, resulting in a 15-year sentence with a mandatory minimum of 70% (10.5 years).
State of Iowa v. Scott Anderson Scott Anderson was charged with the unauthorized use of a credit card in the amount of $704 during the period of December 23-26, 2006. The credit card was stolen from a mailbox in the same apartment complex in which Anderson’s mother resided. The card was activated by someone who called on the telephone line in Anderson’s mother’s apartment. Anderson resided with his brother and his brother’s fiancé’s family elsewhere, but he and his brother had access to his mother’s apartment and the phone line was in Anderson’s name. A U.S. postal inspector investigated the case and obtained a statement from Anderson on May 2, 2007, acknowledging he had used the stolen credit card to make purchases. Anderson testified that he had been hospitalized with a mental illness in April and claimed the signature on the statement did not appear to be his and, in any event, he did not understand what he had signed. Anderson’s brother, his brother’s fiancé, and his uncle testified as alibi witnesses, stating that Anderson was always with one of them during the holiday period because Anderson’s car was inoperative at the time and he could not go anywhere unless one of them drove him. The prosecution’s rebuttal included an exhibit showing Anderson’s signature on a court document, which appeared to match the signature on the incriminating statement.
The case was submitted to the jury mid-afternoon on Thursday, and the jury reached a quick guilty verdict. The maximum sentence authorized by law for an aggravated misdemeanor is two years. Drake Law Professor Robert Rigg suggested that because Anderson had no prior criminal record, he believed it likely Anderson might receive probation rather than a prison term. Following the verdict, the students had an opportunity to debrief the jurors, a session that is always enlightening. The jurors advised that they did not believe the alibi witnesses and also observed there was sufficient evidence to convict Anderson even without his statement to the postal inspector.
State of Iowa v. Bobby Joe Stouffer Stouffer was originally charged in May 2006 with involuntary manslaughter, an aggravated misdemeanor. On October 16. 2006, the charges against Stouffer were amended to second-degree murder. Police found Shane Batty dead at his home in Mitchellville. Batty, Stouffer, and other friends partied at the Batty house during the afternoon and evening. An autopsy determined Batty died as a result of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen. The police interviewed Stouffer on several occasions, and videotapes of those interviews were put into evidence. The interviews occurred before Stouffer had counsel. The videotapes showed inconsistent statements—Stouffer initially denied shooting Batty but later admitted shooting him with an antique pistol, but claimed the gun fired accidentally. Three federal prisoners who had been in jail with Stouffer testified that he had bragged about killing Batty. In a trial presided over by Judge Joel Novak, the jury convicted Stouffer of second degree murder.
Defense counsel objected to the trial venue at the Smith Law Center on Drake’s campus, alleging the FYTP atmosphere would be prejudicial to her client. No evidence was submitted to support defense counsel’s allegations, and, on voir dire, several jurors responded they would in no way be swayed or pressured by the presence of more than one hundred students observing the case. Judge Novak overruled the objection. Defense counsel took an interlocutory appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court and sought a stay. The Iowa Supreme Court denied the stay request. The case is currently on appeal; however, the Appellate Defender has raised no issue on appeal challenging the Trial Practicum venue at the Smith Law Center.
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Click here to read the Drake University press release covering the case.
Gillotti v. MLC Inc. This was a civil suit against the husband and wife owners of Loco Joe’s pool hall arcade near South Ridge Mall. District Judge Scott Rosenberg presided. The plaintiffs Matt Gillotti and Kyle Tapps alleged they were beaten up at the entertainment hall and bar and that owners of the business are liable for permanent injuries sustained in the attack because, in part, the business should have had better security on the night of a Chicago Cubs baseball playoff game. The jury found Loco Joe’s negligent in failing to provide a safe premises, but rejected the Dram Shop claim, finding the defendant did not sell or serve beer to the assailants knowing they were intoxicated. The jury awarded $24,531 in past medical expenses, $500 in pain and suffering, $500 in past loss of function, and $4,500 in lost earnings, for a total judgment of $30,031.
Morgan v. Hairy Mary’s The plaintiff’s arm and wrist were badly broken during a heavy metal concert at a popular bar near the Drake campus. The bar contended the plaintiff was drunk, lost his balance, and broke his arm in a fall to the floor while slam dancing in the mosh pit. Plaintiff contended that he was caught by surprise in the mosh pit, and that his injuries were due to the negligence of the bar in failing to warn patrons of the start of the show and to keep the moshing safe and under control. District Judge Richard Blane presided. The jury found comparative fault with both sides equally responsible and awarded damages of $24,000, which were cut in half due to plaintiff’s fault.
Reed v. CarterDefendant rear-ended defendant in an automobile accident on Army Post Road. There was so little visible damage done, and no apparent personal injuries, that the police were not called. Thereafter, the plaintiff claimed to experience whiplash and head pain that at times was excruciating. The plaintiff has gone to the University of Missouri hospitals once every three months for an elaborate and painful treatment for her pain. The Defendant’s position was similar to the All State television “swoop and squat” commercials about fraudulent claims. Defendant challenged Plaintiff’s claim of whiplash, contending it was fabricated. Judge Michael Huppert admitted evidence that years earlier in a different auto accident case this Plaintiff, after obtaining a settlement, did not need to be treated again for medical injuries. The jury entered a verdict for the Defendant.
Ladjahasan v. Iowa State UniversityLadjahasan was employed as a field technician by Iowa State University. He started having health problems, missing so many days of work that other employees donated their sick time to cover for him. Ladjahasan wanted to return to work, but only with limitations on lifting and climbing ladders. He claimed that Iowa State pressured him into applying for permanent disability status and then fired him when his application for disability was denied. Ladjahasan sued Iowa State for violation of the federal Rehabilitation Act based on discrimination for a perceived disability. The jury gave a verdict in favor of Iowa State.
This case, the first federal case to appear in the trial practicum, was tried by Judge William Jay Riley of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. In a letter sent to Drake Law School following the trial, he offered this comment: "Your accomplishment in developing this trial curriculum for first year students is exceptional. I commend Drake Law School for this remarkable program."
State of Iowa v. Brandon SaylesBrandon Sayles was charged with felony child endangerment after his two-month-old baby was blinded from shaken-baby syndrome. There were no eyewitnesses, however, and the evidence against Sayles was all circumstantial. Defense attorneys attempted to show that other adults had access to the child. District Judge Rob Blink presided. The jurors convicted Sayles. Many students were surprised by the verdict. Discussion centered on the credibility of witnesses and why the jurors found the defense arguments unpersuasive.
State of Iowa v. Clarence WillisThe defendant was charged with armed robbery. The robbery occurred at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Des Moines. The case centered on the reliability of cross-racial eyewitness testimony and conflicting evidence. District Judge Robert Wilson presided. Judge Wilson sustained a Batson challenge which alleged the prosecution had impermissibly exercised a peremptory challenge to strike a prospective black juror from the jury panel. A 12-person jury acquitted Willis. The juror debriefing enabled the students to understand how the jurors reached consensus after an initial 9 - 3 vote for acquittal.
Ken Downing v. City of West Des MoinesThis was a Section 1983 civil case involving claims of constitutional tort and defamation. The case involved Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues, raising troubling issues as to the sweeping scope of the search of the plaintiff's home and business premises and the haphazard accounting done as to items seized. District Judge Robert Blink presided. An eight-person jury awarded Downing $10,000 in damages. Prior to Judge Blink's post-judgment ruling on court-awarded attorneys' fees, the case was settled for $40,000.
State of Iowa v. John Molloy This was a murder trial. The prosecution alleged that after a night of partying with drugs and alcohol, the defendant and two others killed the neighborhood drug dealer. Then-District (now Iowa Court of Appeals) Judge Larry Eisenhauer presided. A 12-person jury convicted Molloy of first degree murder. The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.
State of Iowa v. Stephen Blumberg This case involved a burglary charge. Blumberg was charged with breaking and entering an old apartment complex and stealing its antique ornamentation. Chief Judge Gamble presided. A 12-person jury convicted. The Iowa Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the conviction.