Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Clinton County, Nancy S. Tabor, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mullins, J.
The defendant appeals from his conviction of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon. AFFIRMED.
Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ. Tabor, J., takes no part.
Jason Tate appeals from a jury verdict finding him guilty of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon. Tate contends there was insufficient evidence to support the first-degree murder conviction and the court erred in admitting evidence of prior bad acts. Tate argues the killing was accidental and the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence about the decedent. Alternatively, should trial counsel have failed to preserve error, Tate raises these issues as an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. For the reasons contained herein, we affirm.
I. Background Facts & Proceedings
Jason Tate and Kelsey Stahl knew each other well. In the spring of 2010, Stahl moved into a one bedroom apartment at Miller Ridge Apartments in Clinton, Iowa. Tate moved into her apartment approximately forty-five days later. At the time, she was dating Tate and working as a certified nursing assistant in a local nursing home. However, between November and December 2010, Stahl's friends reported seeing a change in her behavior and in her relationship with Tate.
On December 19, 2010, Jason Tate fired a single shot from a .38 caliber revolver that pierced Stahl's neck just below her jaw line on the right side of her body. The bullet severed Stahl's spinal cord and lodged into her third cervical vertebra. The shot caused Stahl to collapse on her bedroom floor. Medical experts later testified the gun shot likely caused instant paralysis and Stahl remained conscious, if at all, for a matter of minutes or seconds.
Immediately after the shooting, Tate grasped Stahl's body and attempted to drag her out of the apartment. He pulled her out of the bedroom, down a short hallway, and into the entrance of the kitchen. At some point, he stopped trying to move her and left Stahl's body lying on the linoleum floor. Tate then grabbed the gun, ran down the apartment stairs, and threw the gun away from the apartment and into the snow. He rushed back into the apartment, stepped over Stahl's body, and changed his blood-stained jeans in the bedroom. After changing, Tate again stepped over Stahl's body, took her car keys off the top of refrigerator, and locked the door on his way out of the apartment.
After leaving Stahl's apartment, Tate drove her car to a nearby gas station. He purchased gas, cigarettes, and a lighter-in three separate, successive transactions. He then drove across the Mississippi River and into Illinois. While in the car, he placed several phone calls. He called his mother, Jerri Ross (his ex-girlfriend's mother and grandmother to one of his three children), and Neelie Wallace.
Wallace is another one of Tate's ex-girlfriends with whom he had a child. Beginning at or around 9:45 p.m. on December 19, 2010, Tate placed between nine and eleven phone calls to Wallace. Wallace later testified Tate left a frantic message saying he wanted to see his son "one last time" because "he was gonna be gone for a while, so he just wanted to be with people that he loved." Wallace eventually returned Tate's calls and agreed to allow him to come to her home in Rockford, Illinois.
At approximately 11:30 p.m. on December 19, 2010, Tate arrived at Wallace's home. Upon his arrival, he told Wallace he was "on the run for murder." When she asked him what he meant, he laughed while he said "from a long time ago." Wallace then noticed blood on Tate's shirt and shoes. She asked him what had happened. He told her he was at a "trap house" with Stahl when someone robbed them. He said someone came into the room and started shooting. In the midst of everything, he looked over at Stahl and noticed that she had been shot but did not know who did it. Later that night, he told Wallace that "he had a gun and that he thought maybe he had shot her, but he wasn't sure." He explained that after Stahl had been shot, he tried to lift her arms over her head and then just grabbed her keys and left. After explaining the blood on his clothes, he took what appeared to be a shell casing out of his pocket and told Wallace he needed to "get rid of it." Wallace allowed him to shower and stay the night. Tate and Wallace then engaged in sexual intercourse.
The next day, Tate changed his story to Wallace. He began to cry and said, "I swear it was an accident." He confided in Wallace that he had accidently shot Stahl. While explaining what happened, he said he was in Stahl's bedroom and she asked to see his new "banger." He thought the gun was unloaded and he gave it to Stahl. He then said she accidently shot herself. Wallace asked Tate what he would have done if she had been shot instead of Stahl. Tate said he would have taken her to the hospital immediately.
On December 21, 2010, Tate asked Wallace to move Stahl's car. Tate had parked Stahl's car away from Wallace's apartment in a different apartment complex. Once they reached Stahl's car, they decided to park it alongside of an abandoned house. After parking the car alongside the abandoned house, Tate asked Wallace if she would drive him to Chicago. As Wallace later explained, she did not want to get in trouble for helping him, so she declined. However, she agreed to take him to the gas station, give him money, and pay for gas in Stahl's car. After Tate left, Wallace called a Crime Stoppers hotline, told law enforcement she had heard Kelsey Stahl had been killed, and requested law enforcement check Stahl's apartment.
Later on December 21, 2010, police arrived at Stahl's apartment to investigate the Crime Stoppers tip. Upon arrival, police officers noticed blood on Stahl's apartment door. After gaining entry into the apartment, officers discovered Stahl's body lying on the floor in the hallway between the bedroom and the kitchen. A blood spatter analysis revealed Stahl had been shot in her bedroom near the closet. Large transfer stains indicated someone dragged Stahl's body from the bedroom to the hallway near the kitchen. Police officers found two live .38 caliber rounds of ammunition in the ...