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State v. Pitman

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 23, 2014

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
ADAM JOHN PITMAN, Defendant-Appellant

Editorial Note:

This decision has been referenced in a "Decisions Without Published Opinions" table in the North Western Reporter.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Lee (South) County, Cynthia H. Danielson, Judge. The defendant appeals his conviction for first-degree murder.

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Stephan J. Japuntich, Assistant State Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Jean C. Pettinger, Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Short, County Attorney, and Bruce C. McDonald and Artemio Santiago, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.

Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.



Adam Pitman appeals his conviction following a jury verdict finding him guilty of first-degree murder. See Iowa Code § 707.2 (2011). On appeal, Pitman contends the district court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal as the evidence was insufficient to establish he acted with specific intent. He also asserts the court erred in denying his motion to suppress inculpatory statements.

Based on Pitman's behavior, his unsolicited incriminating statements, and his inconsistent statements as to the timing, amount, type, and effects of his drug use, a reasonable jury could conclude he had the specific intent to kill his mother. When Pitman initially volunteered incriminating information, he was not being interrogated. Any impairment caused by Pitman's drug use did not prevent him from knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waiving his Miranda rights. Pitman's statements during the DCI interview were voluntary. Accordingly, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Twenty-three-year old Pitman lived with his mother, Rosa, in Keokuk, Iowa, and she supported him financially. On August 29, 2011, Rosa and Pitman drove to Illinois, where she obtained a $600 title loan. On their return trip they picked up Rosa's friend, Susan Francis. Before the women cashed the loan check, they dropped Pitman off at home. Pitman walked to a " head shop" and purchased Caterpillar (synthetic marijuana) and some bath salts. Rosa and Francis returned, picked up Pitman, and they drove to Wal-Mart. Rosa gave Pitman some, but not all, of the loan proceeds. At trial, Francis testified to Pitman's severe drug problem.

Later that same day Rosa and a different friend went to a casino. They returned to Keokuk around 6:30 p.m. Rosa was tired and wanted to take a nap. Rosa and her friend made plans to get together the next day, August 30.

In the early morning hours of August 30, Fort Madison Police Officer Sawyer observed Pitman driving a car without working taillights and initiated a traffic stop--the stop was recorded and Sawyer requested back up.

As Sawyer approached the driver's door, he observed Pitman " dumping what appeared to be prescription pills into his mouth." Sawyer pulled Pitman out of the car and moved him to the ground. Sawyer " attempted to try to stop [Pitman] from swallowing the pills by placing my hands around his throat." Pitman eventually complied with Sawyer's commands to spit out the pills, and Sawyer saw two small piles of pills on the ground. Sawyer asked Pitman, " [W]hat the hell [is] wrong with [you]?" Pitman responded he had just killed his mother. Sawyer " didn't really believe" him. Sawyer handcuffed Pitman but told him it was for his own safety, and he was not under arrest. Pitman replied he would be under arrest because he had just killed his mother. Pitman advised Sawyer he committed the crime at 1602 Concert Street.

Pitman stated he used an extension cord and volunteered that the back door was unlocked. Sawyer asked Pitman if 1602 Concert was in Keokuk but " couldn't really get a response." Sawyer radioed dispatch and asked that a Keokuk police officer conduct a welfare check at the address.

Sawyer observed Pitman's speech seemed to be normal at the beginning of the traffic stop but by the end of the encounter, Pitman appeared to be under the influence of some substance. Pitman had slurred speech as he attempted, numerous times, to spell his last name. Pitman told Sawyer that he had smoked some synthetic stuff, he was on a bunch of drugs, and he had not slept for three days. Sawyer then helped Pitman to the side of the road.

When Officer Gibbs arrived at the traffic stop, Sawyer explained Pitman had attempted to swallow pills, volunteered he killed his mother, and " was all messed up." On cross-examination Sawyer testified he made that statement because Pitman " was under the influence of something which led me to believe that he wasn't to the fullest."

Sawyer instructed Gibbs to stay with Pitman. Pitman was having a hard time sitting on the ground, so Gibbs put his leg against Pitman's back to steady him. Gibbs asked, " [W]hat's going on?" Pitman replied he just killed his mother. Gibbs responded: " Are you serious?" Pitman replied: " Yes, without a doubt serious." Pitman warned the officer he was not going to repeat himself and stated he used an electrical cord. Pitman also stated he had been using synthetic drugs.

An ambulance crew arrived shortly before 6:00 a.m., and Sawyer told a crew member Pitman's handcuffs could be removed if needed. Pitman was taken by ambulance to the Fort Madison hospital--a two-minute ride. When the ambulance technician sitting beside Pitman asked him about the drugs he had taken, Pitman responded he would not tell her until they reached the emergency room because he only wanted to list the drugs once. While Pitman was being moved from the ambulance cot to the emergency room bed, he volunteered that he had killed his mother.

Pitman told the hospital staff he was bipolar and had schizophrenia. Pitman also stated he had been consuming Night Lights and Caterpillar and had been taking Lorazepam and carbamazepine (drugs for anxiety and depression). Pitman was uncooperative with the medical staff.

Gibbs followed the ambulance and observed Pitman at the hospital. Gibbs testified Pitman was agitated and had mood shifts: " He would become sad and upset, and then he would become calm and what appeared as normal again." Pitman stated he was a meth addict. Pitman told Gibbs he was having flashbacks--he remembered his mom " covered up in a trash bag" and remembered telling his mother he was sorry and then leaving abruptly. Pitman also stated " he barely remembered anything." Pitman pointed out scratch marks on his arms to Gibbs and volunteered the marks were defensive wounds from his mother.

During cross-examination Gibbs testified: " Q. [I]n your report you [stated] that you thought that Adam was mentally unstable at the hospital; correct? A. I felt that he was emotionally unstable. Q. But not mentally unstable? A. It's possible. He went from calm to upset several times."

The ambulance technician testified because Pitman was uncooperative, he was transferred to an Iowa City hospital. The technician again sat beside Pitman, and she only asked about his comfort and his medical issues. Pitman was tearful and emotional and at times would mumble unintelligible statements. But the technician wrote down the statements she was able to understand--Pitman stated: (1) " I really fucked up" ; (2) " I don't know why I did it" ; (3) " Sorry I was a jerk, but I'm in one hell of a position" ; and (4) " I'm upset--I did a bunch of bad drugs that made me snap and kill my mom while she slept." During the ride, Pitman also talked about science fiction, for example, " wouldn't it be cool if we could do something and send it to outer space." But those statements did not make sense to the technician.

Meanwhile, officers discovered Rosa's body on the bedroom floor of 1602 Concert. A garbage bag was tied over her head and a knife was on the floor next to her. The criminologist observed a telephone cord and an extension cord wrapped tightly around her neck and knotted. In the house's office area, the contents of a purse had been dumped out and scattered over the floor. Also, a tinfoil packet marked Caterpillar was on the desk. A later autopsy showed Rosa " died from asphyxia due to ligature strangulation and suffocation."

Around 9:15 a.m., Pitman arrived at the University of Iowa hospital emergency room, where Dr. Miller treated him for a potential overdose. Pitman responded contextually to Dr. Miller's questions. He provided a medical history, listed the medications he was taking, and exhibited varying emotions. Pitman stated he had taken " Caterpillar," a form of synthetic marijuana. Pitman initially refused Dr. Miller's recommendations for testing. Dr. Miller concluded that Pitman was in no acute physical distress, and Pitman had the capacity to make decisions: " When I questioned him, he knew that he was at ...

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