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State v. Dixon

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 5, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
TRAMARUS DEONTAE DIXON, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, David F. Staudt, Judge.

A defendant appeals his conviction for first-degree robbery.

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Robert Ranschau, Assistant State Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Jean Pettinger, Assistant Attorney General, Thomas J. Ferguson, County Attorney, and Brad Walz and Joel Dalrymple, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Danilson and Tabor, JJ.


A jury found Tramarus Dixon guilty of first-degree robbery for his role in an armed hold-up at the Motel 6. Dixon appeals that conviction, arguing the circumstantial evidence he acted as the get-away driver could not be considered substantial proof of guilt. He also maintains he should have been allowed substitute counsel and challenges the effectiveness of his attorney's representation.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, we find sufficient facts to sustain the jury's verdict. We find no error in the district court's denial of substitute counsel. We reject two of Dixon's pro se claims of ineffective assistance on this record and preserve the remaining allegations for possible postconviction relief proceedings so defense counsel may have an opportunity to explain his strategy.

I. Facts and Procedural Background

Waterloo resident Melvin Sickels was walking his dog on the night of January 26, 2009, when a car parked by the Motel 6 on Logan Avenue raised his suspicions. He watched two men exit the back seat, cross the street, and go into the motel, while the driver waited in the car. The third man stood outside the car for a little while and then returned to the driver's seat. Sickels "called the police to see if they'd come check and just see if everything was ok." While on the phone with the police, he saw two men run from the motel and jump into the car, which sped east on Ralston Road.

About the same time Waterloo Police Officer Lisa Campbell was driving by the Motel 6 on her way to work. She saw a car parked at the corner of Logan Avenue and Ralston Road and noticed its brake lights came on. When she later looked at a photograph of the Dixon's car, she believed the lights looked the same.

Joel Johnson was working the front desk of the Motel 6 that night. At 10:15 p.m. two men entered the motel wearing masks over their faces and pointed a gun at him. Johnson, who was very familiar with guns, identified the weapon as a 9 millimeter semiautomatic black handgun with a silver handle. The two men hopped over the counter. One held the gun behind Johnson's head and instructed him to open the cash drawer. Johnson said the motel generally keeps less than $200 on hand. The two men stuffed the money from the drawer into bank deposit bags, each of which was labeled with a motel employee's name. The robbers then asked Johnson where the safe was. When Johnson told them the motel did not have a safe, the armed man struck him on the side of the head with the gun. The two robbers then ran out of the motel with the money. Johnson called 911.

When the police arrived, Johnson gave them a physical description of the two men. Johnson first described the shorter of the two men, recalling he wore blue jeans, a black sweatshirt, a red mask, and Nike sneakers with a blue and black insignia on them. Johnson described the armed man as taller, wearing a blue mask, a dark pullover sweatshirt, blue jeans, and Nike sneakers. Johnson said both robbers wore blue gloves on their hands.

Sickels told police the car which caught his attention was a dark colored four-door sedan. Officer Campbell said the car she saw matched Sickels's description. Police searched the surrounding neighborhoods for the sedan. Officer Aaron McClelland followed Ralston Road and then took Lakeside Street to Niles Street where another officer had discovered a light blue glove discarded in the intersection.

Officer McClelland spotted a blue Chevy Lumina parked in the 4000 block of Niles Street. McClelland questioned the three occupants of the Lumina but did not find any evidence of the robbery. Parked in the nearby driveway of 4039 Niles, Officer McClelland noticed a green Pontiac Bonneville. He touched the car's hood and found it still warm to the touch. When McClelland shined his flashlight into the Bonneville, he saw a semiautomatic handgun in plain view on the back seat.

The driver of the Lumina also directed the officers to the house at 4039 Niles. When Officer McClelland and Sergeant Monty Frana knocked on the door, it was answered by an elderly woman named Annie Davis. Davis, who is Dixon's grandmother, initially told the police no one else was in her house. When the officers told Davis about the robbery and seeing the gun in the Bonneville, she said: "I'm going to tell you the truth. They're in the back bedroom."

The officers entered and in the back bedroom found three men identified as Jamarus Wise, Tramarus Dixon, and Orentheo Campbell. The police discovered a fourth man, Malcolm Leflore, in the bathroom, where he told police he was hiding because he possessed marijuana. In patting down Wise, police found $215. The officers failed to secure the cash, leaving it on the bed in the back bedroom where Dixon remained separated from his companions.

During the investigation, police allowed Antoinette Davis, Dixon's mother, into the house to assist her elderly mother, Annie Davis. Antoinette told the police Dixon suffered a knee injury and the pain caused him to pass out, though no one else saw this occur. Police allowed Antoinette to take her son to the hospital. After Antoinette and Dixon left the back bedroom of the house, police could not locate the $215 seized from Wise.

The State presented evidence that Dixon did not go straight to the hospital. While he left the house around midnight, he did not arrive at the emergency room until 1:04 a.m. According to hospital records, he checked himself out against medical advice at 1:57 a.m. without receiving any treatment. The hospital records also showed Dixon's home address was not 4039 Niles. Around 4 a.m., Dixon came to the police station where he was interviewed for about forty minutes.

In their search of the Davis home, officers found a blue latex glove in a box in the living room which was "identical" to the glove found in the street on the route from the motel. They also found a black hooded sweatshirt in the back bedroom, as well as a pair of Air Jordan athletic shoes which appeared to have been tossed down the basement steps. The police obtained a search warrant for the Bonneville, which was registered to Dixon's mother. Inside the car officers found the handgun, blue latex gloves, a black ...

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