December 21, 2016
STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
SHANNON KNICKERBOCKER, Defendant-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Clayton County, Margaret L.
defendant challenges his convictions for third-degree
burglary and first-degree theft. AFFIRMED.
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Robert P. Ranschau,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Thomas J. Ogden, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.
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,  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.
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.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
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
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
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
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.
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 received $5000 when they were done
counting. Like McCarthy, Bollman did not provide information
to the authorities until Shawna, his girlfriend, came forward
Ida Heins-along with her daughter and granddaughters-arrived
home from bingo at 10:30 p.m. on August 27, 2011, she noticed
"everything was topsy turvy" in her bedroom. The
lockboxes were "busted open" and the borrowed cash
was gone. Ida's daughter, Patricia, noticed piggy banks
and teddy bears belonging to her eight-year-old daughters
were missing, as well as $6000 of her own savings. Ida Heins
called the Clayton County Sheriffs Office. The responding
deputies discovered the back door had been pried open. Heins
identified Knickerbocker as a possible suspect. Heins told
the deputy she had seen Knickerbocker driving a blue truck
past her house earlier that day. She also recalled seeing a
white car drive by before they left for bingo; she described
the driver as looking like Bollman.
other family members, Gina and Dalana Heins, testified to
seeing Knickerbocker drive past the property on August 27,
2011, when they were outside doing yard work. Dalana recalled
seeing Knickerbocker drive by in a blue truck, and Gina later
saw a white car go past carrying three people, one of whom
she believed to be Knickerbocker.
Brent Ostrander interviewed Knickerbocker about the break-in.
At Knickerbocker's house, the deputy saw a blue Dodge
pickup truck. During the 2011 interview, Knickerbocker
discussed the land deal between Upton and Heins, revealing he
had read the contract drawn up by an attorney to facilitate
the sale. Knickerbocker denied any involvement in the
burglary and told the deputy his housemates-Shawna, Bollman,
and McCarthy-could vouch for his whereabouts. But the deputy
did not talk with Knickerbocker's housemates at that
case remained unsolved until August 2013, when Deputy
Ostrander interviewed Shawna, Bollman, and McCarthy.
Following those interviews, the State charged Knickerbocker
with first-degree theft for unlawfully taking possession of
another's property with a value exceeding $10, 000, in
violation of Iowa Code sections 714.1 and 714.2(1) (2011),
and third-degree burglary for unlawfully entering an occupied
structure having no right, license or privilege to do so with
the intent to commit a theft therein, in violation of
sections 713.1 and 713.6A(1). The State did not charge
Shawna, Bollman, or McCarthy with any crimes.
trial took place in July 2015. At the close of the evidence,
defense counsel asked the court to rule Shawna, Bollman, or
McCarthy were accomplices as a matter of law. The court
agreed McCarthy was an accomplice as a matter of law but
allowed the jurors to consider whether they believed Shawna
and Bollman were accomplices, as defined in the jury
instructions, whose testimony required corroboration. The
jury answered an interrogatory finding Bollman fit the
definition of an accomplice but Shawna did not. The jury
returned guilty verdicts on both counts and also answered an
interrogatory finding the value of the property taken by
Knickerbocker exceeded $10, 000.
sought a new trial, alleging the verdict was against the
weight of the evidence. The district court denied
Knickerbocker's new-trial motion and imposed
indeterminate sentences of ten years on the theft count and
five years on the burglary count. The court ran the terms
concurrently, suspended the prison time, and ordered
Knickerbocker to serve two to five years of probation.
Knickerbocker now appeals, renewing his
weight-of-the-evidence challenge and contesting the
court's refusal to find Shawna was an accomplice as a
matter of law.
Scope and Standards of Review
reviewing the district court's denial of
Knickerbocker's motion for new trial under Iowa Rule of
Criminal Procedure 2.24(2)(b)(6), we look only to see if the
court abused its wide discretion. See State v.
Reeves, 670 N.W.2d 199, 202 (Iowa 2003). "On a
weight-of-the-evidence claim, appellate review is limited to
a review of the exercise of discretion by the trial court,
not of the underlying question of whether the verdict is
against the weight of the evidence." Id. at 203
(clarifying appellate court does not sit to judge witness
credibility or reweigh evidence).
review Knickerbocker's accomplice claim for the
correction of errors at law. See State v. Douglas,
675 N.W.2d 567, 570-71 (Iowa 2004).
Did the district court abuse its discretion in denying the
motion for new trial?
motion for new trial, Knickerbocker alleged the greater
amount of credible evidence supported his position that he
did not participate in the burglary and theft. He complained
of "uncorroborated accomplice testimony" and the
lack of physical evidence linking him to the crimes. He also
challenged the State's proof that the value of the stolen
property exceeded $10, 000.
overruling Knickerbocker's motion, the district court
offered the following evaluation of the evidence:
At trial, John Bollman and Cody McCarthy, accomplices,
testified as to [Knickerbocker's] involvement in the
crimes at the victim's residence. Corroboration of the
accomplices' testimony was provided by Shawna
Knickerbocker, Gina Heins, Ida Heins, and Delana Heins. The
jury determined Shawna Knickerbocker was not an accomplice.
The testimony of Gina Heins, Ida Heins, and Delana Heins
placed [Knickerbocker] and accomplice near the location of
the Heins residence earlier in the day the crime was
Ida Heins testified as to the items, including money, taken
from her residence. Two individuals who had advanced monies
to Ida Heins confirmed Ida Heins's receipt of the monies.
district court recognized its ability to set aside the
jury's verdicts if they were "contrary to the weight
of the evidence and a miscarriage of justice may have
resulted." See Nguyen v. State, 707 N.W.2d 317,
327 (Iowa 2005). But the court decided the evidence at
Knickerbocker's trial did not "preponderate heavily
against the jury's verdict."
appeal, Knickerbocker contends the State's witnesses who
implicated him were not credible. He asserts the
inconsistencies in their testimony and their motivations for
accusing him "shed a great deal of doubt on their
foibles of the State's witnesses were on full display for
the jury. Defense counsel cross-examined Shawna, Bollman, and
McCarthy regarding the leniency they received for their
testimony. The jury learned of Shawna's drug addiction
and her prior false testimony. These witnesses had
information about the crimes because-to various degrees-they
interacted with Knickerbocker before, during, or after the
burglary, and all received some of the ill-gotten gains. As
the prosecutor told the jurors during closing argument:
"If you're going to cast a play in hell, don't
expect the actors to be angels." Under no delusion the
State's witnesses were angels, the jury nevertheless
believed their testimony connecting Knickerbocker to the
burglary and theft.
it is the function of the jury to believe or disbelieve
witnesses, the power to grant a new trial is reserved for
those "exceptional cases" where the credible
evidence tips the scales dramatically away from a guilty
verdict. See State v. Ellis, 578 N.W.2d 655, 659
(Iowa 1998) (citation omitted). The district court did not
see this as an exceptional case. It found sufficient
corroboration of the accomplices in the testimony of Ida
Heins, as well as Gina and Delana Heins. The district court
did "exactly what it was required to do under a
weight-of-the-evidence standard." See Reeves,
670 N.W.2d at 209. It carefully weighed the evidence,
determined credibility, and gave sufficient reasons for its
decision. It is not our job to reassess witness credibility
or reweigh the evidence. The district court acted well within
its discretion in denying the motion for new trial.
Was Shawna Knickerbocker an accomplice as a matter of
State cannot convict a defendant based solely on accomplice
testimony. Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.21(3). When relying on
accomplice testimony, the State must offer corroborating
evidence that independently links the defendant to the crime.
Douglas, 675 N.W.2d at 568-69. Corroboration need
not be strong nor go to the whole case. State v.
Liggins, 524 N.W.2d 181, 187 (Iowa 1994). The testimony
of one accomplice may not be used to corroborate the
testimony of another accomplice. State v. Barnes,
791 N.W.2d 817, 824 (Iowa 2010).
case law defines an accomplice as someone who "could be
charged with and convicted of the specific offense for which
an accused is on trial." Douglas, 675 N.W.2d at
571 (citation omitted). Standing alone, proof that a person
knew the accused was planning the crime or was present when
the accused committed the crime is not enough to brand the
person as an accomplice. Id. The defense must show
by a preponderance of the evidence the person was somehow
involved in the commission of the crime. Id.
"When the facts and circumstances are undisputed and
permit only one inference, whether a witness is an accomplice
is a question of law for the court." Id. But if
the facts are disputed or give rise to different inferences,
the accomplice question is for the jury. Id.
trial, defense counsel argued all three of
Knickerbocker's housemates-Shawna, Bollman, and
McCarthy-were accomplices as a matter of law. Counsel
asserted Shawna "could be charged under a theory of
aiding and abetting, that she was aware of this supposed
plan, that she had received text messages during the supposed
incident and that she supposedly received money." The
court instructed the jury McCarthy was an accomplice but
found the status of Shawna and of Bollman gave rise to
different factual inferences and, therefore, posed questions
for the jury. The jury decided Bollman was an accomplice but
Shawna was not.
appeal, Knickerbocker argues the district court erred in not
instructing the jury Shawna was an accomplice to the
theft. He points out Shawna admitted on the
witness stand she accepted $1000 from him knowing it was
stolen and did not return the cash to the Heinses or turn it
over to authorities.
State contends Knickerbocker's argument is foreclosed by
State v. Houston, 211 N.W.2d 598, 601 (Iowa 1973),
where the supreme court held a witness who later received
stolen property from a defendant being prosecuted for
receiving stolen property was not an accomplice because the
later receipt was not the same offense for which defendant
was on trial. We agree the logic of Houston
undermines Knickerbocker's position. While the State may
have been able to prosecute Shawna for possession of stolen
property she received from her nephew, that offense was
different and separate from Knickerbocker's act of taking
the money from the Heinses. The district court correctly
determined Shawna was not an accomplice as a matter of law.
even if Shawna had been an accomplice to Knickerbocker's
theft from the Heinses, the State presented sufficient
evidence to corroborate her version of events and to support
the jury's guilty verdict. Shawna testified to
Knickerbocker leaving the house twice on August 27, 2011,
first on his own and later with Bollman and McCarthy. The
testimony of Ida Heins, as well as that of Gina and Dalana
Heins, about the unusual traffic they saw on their rural
Luana road that day provided a vital link between
Knickerbocker and his confederates and the theft discovered
at the trailer later that night. Knickerbocker cannot show he
was prejudiced by the district court's determination that
Shawna was not an accomplice to the theft as a matter of law.
 Because she shares a last name with
defendant Knickerbocker, we will refer to Shawna by her first
name in this opinion.
 Knickerbocker does not argue Shawna
was an accomplice to the burglary.