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State v. Williams

Court of Appeal of Iowa

July 10, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JEROME NEAL WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, George L. Stigler, Judge.

Williams appeals his conviction for domestic abuse assault-third offense.

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Patricia Reynolds, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Linda J. Hines, Assistant Attorney General, Thomas J. Ferguson, County Attorney, Michelle Wagner, Assistant County Attorney, and Adam Kenworthy, Student Legal Intern, for appellee.

Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Tabor, JJ.

EISENHAUER, C.J.

Jerome Neal Williams appeals his conviction for domestic abuse assault— third offense. He argues the district court abused its discretion by permitting the admission of prior bad acts evidence. We affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

In October of 2008, Tessa and Williams moved in together, and Williams is the father of their young child. In February 2011, Tessa and Williams were arguing, and the police were called to their residence. Williams left before the police arrived. In April, Williams was charged with domestic abuse assault—third offense. He filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude evidence regarding his two prior convictions for domestic abuse assault of Tessa. Williams argued the challenged evidence would be relevant only to prove he acted in conformity with his past actions and the evidence would be unfairly prejudicial. The State resisted and argued evidence of Williams's prior convictions was relevant to the issues of motive and intent and asserted prior assaults are especially relevant and probative in cases of domestic abuse. See State v. Taylor, 689 N.W.2d 116, 128 (Iowa 2004) (ruling the defendant's "prior acts of violence . . . reflect his emotional relationship [and] is a circumstance relevant to his motive and intent on the day in question").

The district court agreed with the State, but imposed a limitation:
There is apparently a history . . . throughout the relationship there allegedly have been problems, assaults by Mr. Williams against the alleged victim. And so how they have gotten along, why . . . he has acted as he has acted in the past . . . . [A]ll of those [past acts] would [bear] upon his motive and his intent and the jury ought to be informed that these two people have a history and that allegedly this man has assaulted her on various occasions in the past . . . . You indicated though . . . you intend to have the alleged victim . . . testify . . . [Williams] was convicted. I do not want you to do that. [Just] have her give her testimony as to the previous events, the previous circumstances. I do not want her to go further and say he was convicted of it too.

During opening arguments, defense counsel highlighted Tessa's statement to the police denying an assault by Williams and stating the scratches on her neck were caused by the children and not by Williams.

In February 2011, Williams returned home from his evening work shift. Williams became angry and confronted Tessa in the third-floor bathroom. Tessa was scared, and she ducked under his arms and went down the stairs. Tessa testified: "We got to the bottom of the stairs and from there he had pushed me up against the wall and his hands were on my neck." Tessa did not lose consciousness, but the choking was painful and left marks on her neck. During this struggle, Williams broke Tessa's cell phone. Tessa pushed away and tried to get to the basement where her sister, Marley, was sleeping. Tessa wanted Marley to call the police. Further:

Q. [Tessa, ] has there been previous times, and I just need a yes or no answer, where Mr. Williams has physically assaulted you? . . .
A. Yes.
Q. And could you please describe how he came into physical ...

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