from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Edward A.
applicant appeals from the district court's denial of his
application for postconviction relief. AFFIRMED.
Zachary S. Hindman of Mayne, Arneson, Hindman, Hisey &
Daane, Sioux City, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Bower,
Wright appeals from the district court's denial of his
application for postconviction relief (PCR). Wright maintains
there is newly discovered evidence that warrants a new trial,
and he raises several issues regarding the effectiveness of
Background Facts and Proceedings.
A panel of our court found the facts as follows on
Wright's direct appeal:
On January 17, 2008, two hunters discovered the frozen,
shirtless, dead body of Zachary Cooper lying face down on a
dirt road, near Lawton-about ten miles east of Sioux City.
Cooper had been shot twice.
Wright was subsequently prosecuted for robbing, kidnapping,
and murdering Cooper. The State's evidence showed that on
January 15, 2008, Wright, Jeremy Williams, Nick Perez, Ray
Dukes, Teddy Case, Matthew Dean, and one other individual
named "Wayne" were hanging out in Perez's Sioux
City apartment. While sitting around, various individuals in
the group decided that they wanted to smoke some marijuana.
Therefore, Perez volunteered to contact his friend Cooper
about purchasing a quarter pound of marijuana. Cooper lived
in a house about a block away that belonged to David
Dean and Case both testified they heard some discussion in
the group about robbing Cooper. They claimed Wright was part
of the discussion. Dukes testified that he heard Case and
Perez talk about a robbery. Dean testified that Dukes was in
on "the talk about robbing" Cooper. Case admitted
he had previously testified in deposition that the plan to
rob Cooper came from Dukes, among others. However, Dean and
Case (as well as "Wayne") left Perez's
apartment before any marijuana was delivered.
After Perez visited with Cooper regarding the possibility of
buying marijuana, Cooper went to Perez's apartment to
make sure the group had enough money to pay for it. According
to Myers, who was with Cooper that afternoon, Cooper was
nervous about dealing with Perez. However, when Cooper
returned from Perez's apartment, he told Myers everything
was all right, explaining that just Perez, Wright, and
Williams were there, and that he "saw the money."
Perez went to visit Cooper again (this time with Williams) to
finalize the deal. According to Perez, during this meeting,
Cooper stated that he "wanted to make sure things go
straight. If things boil down wrong then he would have to do
something to [Williams] and his family." Williams then
replied, "Dude, don't threaten my f-- -ing
family." Cooper answered that he wasn't threatening
Williams's family. Perez attempted to calm Williams down
and eventually they left and walked back to Perez's
apartment. On the walk home, Williams was still angry about
the threat and stated, "Oh, I got this."
According to Myers, Cooper obtained the marijuana from his
source, left for Perez's apartment around 6:30 or 7:00
p.m., and never returned. Perez and Dukes testified at trial
as to what happened next, although there were a number of
discrepancies between their respective
Perez testified that once Cooper arrived at the apartment
with the marijuana, Wright pulled out a gun. According to
Perez, Williams had been outside moving his car (a Mercury
Marquis), but he came running in and "punched Zachary
Cooper, like three times in the face. And the second and
third time he punched, Zach's nose started streaking
blood." Perez further testified that Dukes exited the
bathroom after Cooper was knocked down and asked,
"[W]hat the hell is going on?" After seeing
Cooper's bloody face, Dukes said, "Oh s---. I'm
staying out of this." Perez testified he too "was
all scared, " and "was freaking out." He ran
into the bathroom and locked the door. After a minute or two,
Williams began banging on the bathroom door telling Perez to
come out. When Perez left the bathroom, Williams told Perez
to go wait out in his car and threatened "you better not
screw us over or I'm going to screw your life over."
The car doors were locked, so Perez waited next to the
vehicle until everyone else came outside. At that point,
Wright, wielding the gun, told him to get in the vehicle
along with the others.
Dukes testified that after Cooper arrived with the marijuana,
Williams started punching him. Dukes testified that Wright
also "started swinging on [Cooper] and pulled the gun
out." According to Dukes, Wright and Williams made
Cooper take off his shirt to be sure he wasn't wearing a
wire. Wright and Williams then led Cooper,
bloody and shirtless, out of the apartment and into the car.
Wright had his gun trained on Cooper. Wright and Williams
also told Dukes to get in the car. Dukes testified he did so
"cuz I didn't want to get shot."
Williams drove the car, with Perez in the front passenger
seat, and Dukes, Cooper, and Wright from left to right in the
rear. Cooper's blood was later found in the middle rear
of the car where both Perez and Dukes testified he had been
sitting. According to Perez, when Wright entered the vehicle
he said to Williams, "you know where to go, just start
Wright forced Cooper to keep his head down. Perez testified
that Cooper was praying for his life. Perez also testified
that Wright observed a tattoo on Cooper's chest, which he
thought was a sign for the Antichrist, and told Cooper he was
"going to put the devil in his grave." Dukes
testified that Williams commented he was "going to show
[Cooper] what to do when you threaten people's
family." Perez also recalled Williams saying,
"Nobody threatens me and my family and gets away with
it" Williams drove the car into rural Woodbury County.
Eventually, Williams stopped the car in a rural farm driveway
off of 170th Street near Lawton. Perez testified that Wright
told Williams to leave the headlights on because "he was
going to do it like a movie on Showtime." Perez remained
in the car, but he recalled that Dukes momentarily left the
car to smoke a cigarette and go to the bathroom. Perez
testified that Wright and Williams had Cooper kneel down in
front of the car and put his hands on the hood. According to
Perez, Wright had to manually load the gun. Wright shot
Cooper, and Cooper fell from his view. Wright then handed the
gun to Williams, they reloaded the gun, and Williams also
Dukes testified that when the car stopped near Lawton, he was
directed out of the vehicle so Cooper could get out on his
side. Dukes recalled that Wright handed his gun to Williams,
and told him "to do what he do." Williams then shot
Cooper. Dukes testified that when Williams shot Cooper,
Wright had his hand on his shoulder telling him he "was
going to watch." Williams gave the gun back to Wright.
Wright had to reload the gun with a single bullet because it
was missing its clip. Wright then stood over Cooper's body
and shot him as well.
On the drive home, both Perez and Dukes testified that they
were warned to stay quiet. According to Perez, when he
commented that it was stupid for Wright and Williams to have
shot Cooper, Wright directed Williams to stop the car, put
the gun against the back of his head, and said, "If
[Perez] want to talk we can take him out right now and do him
too." Dukes testified that Wright told him that "he
will kill my son" if he (Dukes) told anyone.
When the group returned to Sioux City, Williams stopped at a
Kum & Go for gas. Williams and Perez were caught on the
surveillance video inside the store. Surveillance photography
taken outside the store showed Williams' car and four
individuals. Although the outside images were dark and fuzzy,
at trial, Perez and Dukes identified Wright as one of the
The foursome then returned to Perez's apartment where
Wright and Williams cleaned Cooper's blood off of the
wall. According to Perez, Cooper's clothes and the gun
were placed into a garbage sack and thrown into ["the
garbage dumpster that was outside of somebody's yard on
the curb."] Perez, Wright, and Williams then went over
to "Wayne's" to smoke the marijuana taken from
Cooper, while Dukes went to his girlfriend's house.
Around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m., Perez's mother arrived at
Perez's apartment to stay the night. She noticed a strong
odor of cleaning fluid. Wright and Williams were present, and
Williams was "acting really nervous." She also
testified that when [he] went to bed, Perez "came over
and gave me a big hug and . . . he just said that he was
sorry for getting involved with the wrong people and causing
problems and that something bad had happened."
As noted, Cooper's frozen, shirtless body was discovered
two days later lying face down in the snow. Apparently,
Cooper did not die immediately from his wounds, but was able
to walk approximately three-quarters of a mile before he
collapsed and died. Police immediately began investigating
the murder scene, and the following day discovered two .380
caliber shell casings and a .380 caliber bullet. At trial,
the State offered evidence that in September 2007, a search
of Wright's apartment had uncovered seventeen rounds of
.380 caliber ammunition. The State also offered evidence that
Wright had offered to sell someone a handgun that was either
a .357 or a .380 with no clip in August or September 2007.
Despite the cleaning efforts, Cooper's blood was found on
an envelope on the living room bookshelf of Perez's
apartment. Cooper's blood was also found on
Williams's coat sleeve and left breast pocket.
Wright was interviewed by police on January 20. He claimed he
had not left his home at all on the 15th, claimed he did not
know Dukes, claimed he did not know where Lawton was, and
claimed he had never met Cooper in his life. A recording of
this interview was played for the jury at trial.
On January 28, 2008, Wright was charged by trial information
with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, and
first-degree robbery. . . .
Trial commenced on August 13, 2008. . . .
. . . .
Wright subsequently took the stand in his own defense. He
denied robbing, kidnapping, or murdering Cooper. He denied
that he was the fourth person shown on the Kum & Go
surveillance photographs. He testified that he was at
Perez's apartment early on the evening of January 15.
However, he claimed that he left by foot to go to his old
apartment prior to Cooper's arrival at Perez's place
and never even saw Cooper that evening. Wright testified that
after he left Perez's apartment, he walked down the
street where he met a friend "Troy" and decided to
help him move. Wright did not provide Troy's last name.
Troy did not testify.
To explain how his cell phone might have been in Lawton when
and where Cooper was murdered, Wright testified that he had
inadvertently left that phone behind and that he recovered it
from Williams's car later that night. To explain why
Perez's mother saw him late at night at Perez's
apartment, Wright testified that after helping Troy move, he
needed to be picked up by his girlfriend. According to
Wright, he walked the six blocks from Troy's apartment to
Perez's apartment in order to save his girlfriend six
blocks of driving. To account for why Perez's mother
smelled a strong odor of cleaning fluid when she returned to
Perez's apartment late on the evening of January 15 (and
saw Wright), Wright claimed that he told Perez that day to
clean up his apartment "for your momma" and
"spray some smell good."
To try to establish an alibi, Wright also offered the
testimony of his girlfriend that she had encountered Wright
alone between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m., and again around 9:30 p.m.
on the 15th when she picked him up outside Perez's
The State played the DVD of Wright's original police
interview where he made a number of statements that were
inconsistent with Wright's trial testimony, including
that he had not left his place at all on the 15th.
Both parties had previously proposed that versions of
Iowa's accomplice corroboration instruction be given to
the jury.However, at the conclusion of the evidence,
the district court declined to give such an instruction,
stating that it "just doesn't find anything in the
record of significance and far less than what would be
necessary to make these two fellows [Perez and Dukes] an
accomplice." Wright objected to the court's failure
to give the accomplice instruction.
The case was submitted to the jury, and Wright was found
guilty on all three counts. Wright was sentenced to
incarceration for life on the murder and kidnapping
convictions, and to an indeterminate term of twenty-five
years for his robbery conviction.
State v. Wright, No. 08-1737, 2010 WL 200052, at
*1-6 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 22, 2010).
his conviction and unsuccessful direct appeal, Wright filed
an application for postconviction relief in August 2010. In
April 2011, he amended the application. A hearing was held on
April 23, 2015, following which the district court denied
Wright's application. Wright appeals.
Standard of Review.
we review PCR actions for correction of errors at law.
Millam v. State, 745 N.W.2d 719, 721 (Iowa 2008).
However, we review claims of ineffective assistance de novo.
Newly Discovered Evidence.
PCR hearing, Wright's attorney submitted depositions from
two witnesses who claimed Duke had told them-sometime after
Wright's conviction-that he (Duke) had shot Cooper.
Wright maintains Dukes's purported admissions constitute
newly discovered evidence that warrants a new
trial. In the alternative, he maintains that if
the admissions themselves do not warrant a new trial, the
admissions would have compelled the court to grant