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Liggins v. State

Court of Appeal of Iowa

November 6, 2013

STANLEY CARTER LIGGINS, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Bobbi M. Alpers, Judge.

A postconviction relief applicant contends (1) the State suppressed exculpatory evidence and (2) newly-discovered evidence warrants a new trial.

Kent A. Simmons, Davenport, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Richard J. Bennett, Assistant Attorney General, Michael J. Walton, County Attorney, and Julie A. Walton and William R. Ripley, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee State.

Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Danilson, JJ. Tabor, J., takes no part.

VAITHESWARAN, P.J.

In this appeal from the denial of a postconviction relief application, we must decide whether the State suppressed exculpatory evidence.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

This case has a long history that began with the discovery of the charred body of a child in Davenport, Iowa. The State twice prosecuted Stanley Liggins for first-degree murder. The first trial culminated in a finding of guilt that was reversed on appeal. State v. Liggins, 524 N.W.2d 181, 189 (Iowa 1994). The second trial also resulted in a finding of guilt, but this time, the finding was affirmed on appeal. State v. Liggins, 557 N.W.2d 263, 270 (Iowa 1996).

Liggins filed two applications for postconviction relief. Both times, he alleged the State suppressed exculpatory evidence and newly-discovered evidence required a new trial.

During the first proceeding, the district court appointed a special master to cull through the prosecution and defense files and identify evidence that might have been suppressed. The special master found seventy-seven police reports that were in the State's possession but not in the possession of the defense. The defense flagged several of these reports as potentially exculpatory. Following a hearing, the district court determined that the flagged evidence was suppressed but was not material to the outcome. The court denied the first application and this court affirmed. Liggins v. State, No. 99-1188, 2000 WL 1827164, at *10 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 13, 2000).[1]

Liggins's second postconviction relief application alleged in part that "a key State's witness was a paid police informant" and the State failed to disclose this fact to the defense prior to 2002. At a hearing on the application, Liggins's attorney established that a State witness at both of Liggins's trials was indeed a paid informant who may have participated in as many as eighty drug buys for law enforcement groups or officers affiliated with the Davenport Police Department. Payments to the witness spanned a two-year period between Liggins's first and second trials. Liggins's attorney attempted to establish that some of the payments were made by the supervising detective in the Liggins's investigation. While he pointed to certain undocumented disbursements from a police fund, he was unable to confirm they went to the witness.

After considering this evidence, the second postconviction court initially concluded the evidence was not suppressed. The court later amended its ruling to conclude the evidence was suppressed but was not material to the outcome. The amended ruling stated in pertinent part:

[E]ven though the Davenport Police Department failed to provide the information to the applicant that a witness against the applicant was also a police informant at the time, there is no credible evidence that this individual provided false testimony for pay or other benefit in the murder case. If this information concerning the status of the witness had been made known to the jury, the jury would have considered this in addition to all other evidence presented at trial. If the jury threw out any testimony provided by the informant ...

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