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State v. Knickerbocker

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 21, 2016

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Clayton County, Margaret L. Lingreen, Judge.

         A defendant challenges his convictions for third-degree burglary and first-degree theft. AFFIRMED.

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

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Thomas J. Ogden, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         Ida Heins, her daughter, and her twin granddaughters often spent Saturday nights playing bingo in Harpers Ferry. When they returned to their Luana trailer after 10 p.m. on August 27, 2011, they discovered someone had broken in and taken their savings. Shannon Knickerbocker knew about the family's Saturday night bingo tradition. He also knew Heins had recently borrowed money to finance a land purchase. But authorities did not charge Knickerbocker until years later when his aunt, Shawna Knickerbocker, [1] came forward with information tying him to the crimes. In 2015, a jury convicted Knickerbocker of burglary and theft, finding he stole more than $10, 000 from the Heinses.

         Knickerbocker appeals the district court's denial of his motion challenging the jury verdicts as contrary to the weight of the evidence and the court's ruling Shawna was not an accomplice to the theft as a matter of law. Because Knickerbocker fails to show the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for new trial, we decline to disturb the verdicts. As for the accomplice issue, the district court correctly left the matter up to the jury, and regardless of whether Shawna could have been convicted of theft, sufficient evidence corroborates her testimony implicating her nephew. Accordingly, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Motivated to keep the family farm intact but unable to obtain a bank loan to purchase twenty acres of an eighty-acre parcel, sixty-five-year-old Ida Heins borrowed $25, 000 from her daughter-in-law in the spring of 2011 and another $18, 000 from her best friend later that summer. Both loans came in the form of cash without written documentation. Heins kept the cash in two small lockboxes in her bedroom until she was able to finalize the land deal with her half-sister, Helen Upton. Upton and Heins had a strained relationship, and Heins believed Upton was making it difficult for her to buy the land.

         Upton's daughter, Tiffany, was dating Knickerbocker in August 2011. During that summer, Knickerbocker welcomed several people to live at his house, including his aunt, Shawna; her boyfriend, John Bollman; and a teenager, Cody McCarthy. Those three associates of Knickerbocker all testified against him at the 2015 trial.

         Shawna told the jury that on August 27, 2011, her nephew was gone for about one hour in the morning, returned home, and "told John and Cody to put their shoes on." She also testified Knickerbocker supplied her with hydrocodone pills, which affected her memory. Later that day, she received a text message from Knickerbocker saying they were lying in a cornfield and predicting she would "be happy when they returned." According to Shawna, her nephew returned about four hours later carrying a duffel bag and gave her $1000, telling her not to spend it on big things and "to shut [her] mouth about the burglary." Shawna did not share this information with law enforcement until August 2013, attributing her delay to "fear, being disloyal."

         Seventeen-year-old McCarthy testified he went along with Knickerbocker's plan to get money from the Heins trailer. According to McCarthy, on August 27, 2011, Bollman drove toward the trailer in a white Dodge Intrepid; McCarthy and Knickerbocker were passengers. They parked at a graveyard and waited until the Heins family left for bingo. McCarthy testified: "After we had seen them leave, we had gone into the cornfield next to the house and went around to the backside." Knickerbocker pried the door open with a screwdriver, according to the teenager's testimony. Once inside, Knickerbocker told McCarthy to search for money. McCarthy grabbed "two five-dollar bills attached to a couple teddy bears." Meanwhile, Knickerbocker was in the back bedroom going through two lockboxes he pried open with the same screwdriver he used to gain entry. According to McCarthy, Knickerbocker dumped the contents of the lockboxes into a duffel bag before they left the trailer. Bollman drove them back to Knickerbocker's house. Knickerbocker gave McCarthy $500 of the stolen cash. McCarthy did not talk to law enforcement until 2013.

         Bollman offered a similar recollection of August 27, 2011. Bollman testified Knickerbocker left his house in the morning and returned to say "he wanted to go for a ride." As Bollman drove the Dodge Intrepid, Knickerbocker revealed his plan to "get some cash" from the Heins trailer. Bollman recalled driving "past there a few different times" that afternoon. Bollman eventually stopped and let Knickerbocker and McCarthy out in the cornfield at Knickerbocker's direction. More than one hour later, Knickerbocker called Bollman to pick them up. Knickerbocker was carrying a duffel bag and pulled out a wad of cash to show Bollman. Bollman testified he later helped Knickbocker count the cash and ...

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