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State v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 17, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CORNELIUS TYRONE BROWN, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, David P. Odekirk, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his convictions of sexual abuse in the second degree and false imprisonment.

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

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., Tabor, J., and Blane, S.J. [*]

          BLANE, Senior Judge.

         Defendant Cornelius T. Brown appeals his convictions of Count I, sexual abuse in the second degree, in violation of Iowa Code section 709.3(1) (2015), and Count II, false imprisonment, in violation of Iowa Code section 710.7. Brown first contends that the trial court failed to grant his motion for judgment of acquittal as to Count I, asserting the State failed to present sufficient evidence he used force creating a substantial risk of death or serious injury, an element of that crime. Second, Brown claims the trial court erred in assessing financial obligations without making a constitutionally mandated determination of his reasonable ability to pay. Finally, Brown contends his trial counsel was ineffective. Based upon our review, we find Brown's contentions are without merit and affirm.

         I. Factual and procedural background.

         On June 20, 2015, twenty-four-year-old N.H. got off work about 9:00 p.m. from Foot Locker in Waterloo, returned to her apartment, and went to bed. Like the district court, we credit her account of what followed. Around midnight, after falling asleep, she awoke to knocking at her front door. When she answered the door, N.H. found twenty-four-year-old Brown standing there. N.H. had known Brown since ninth grade. They attended Waterloo East High School together, and Brown is a close friend of N.H.'s brother, Vincent. N.H.'s parents knew Brown, and he was always welcomed at their home. She characterized Brown as being a "good friend" with whom she had neither been romantically involved nor had a prior sexual relationship. N.H. had not been expecting Brown that night and had not invited him to her residence.

         Brown asked to use N.H.'s bathroom. Although she thought the request unusual, N.H. let Brown in. After using the restroom, Brown sat down next to N.H. on her bed and started asking her why she wouldn't be his girlfriend. N.H. reaffirmed that she was not interested in him that way, at which Brown became angry and started hitting her. Next, he took her cell phone and would not give it back. Then Brown started punching N.H. in the face with a closed fist while he pulled her hair. N.H. noted Brown smelled of alcohol.

         N.H. and Brown struggled, landing on the floor, where he placed an arm around her throat and began choking and strangling her. N.H. was able to get away to the bathroom, grabbed a bottle of "Scrubbing Bubbles" bleach solution, and sprayed Brown in the face and eyes, which made him angrier. Brown shoved N.H. into the bathtub and started choking her again. He eventually dragged her back to the bedroom, where he punched her more. N.H. managed to briefly escape the apartment, running across the hall to a neighbor's door and knocking for help, but no one answered.

         Brown, who is six feet tall and weighs 230 pounds, pulled N.H., who stands four feet, eleven inches, back into the apartment by her hair and into the bedroom, where he forced his mouth onto her genitals. N.H. could feel the burn of the bleach she had sprayed on Brown's face while his mouth touched her vagina. She struggled and kicked his face, which again made Brown angrier. He continued to punch her.

         Neighbors began banging on N.H.'s apartment door and demanded to see N.H. Brown made N.H. walk to the door with him, and he told the neighbors that everything was fine. Brown took N.H. back to the bedroom and told her he would leave if she "would just let him eat [her] pussy." The escalating violence led N.H. to think that she "was gonna die, " and she pled with Brown to give back her cell phone so she could talk to her son one last time. When Brown gave her the phone, N.H. "bolted" from the apartment, ran to a neighbor's apartment, and called her parents. A few minutes later, N.H. saw her father's truck and a Waterloo police car pull up to the apartment building. N.H. ran outside to them, screaming and crying.

         Officers went looking for Brown and found he had locked himself inside N.H.'s apartment. Police forced open the door and eventually found Brown hiding inside a closet. Brown admitted to police that he had punched N.H. in the face and head with his closed fist. He also said that he knew that he hurt N.H. "very bad" and saw her crying and bleeding. Brown also admitted that N.H. "was scared" and "knew she was in fear for her life" and "thought she was gonna die."

         At trial, N.H. testified that while Brown was choking her, she had clenched her teeth to be able to breathe. Also, the second time Brown choked her, she described "it felt like somebody was trying to rip the life out of my throat." N.H. recounted her injuries: bruising; two black eyes; lots of scratches on her hands, face, mouth, and throat; "knots" on her face; and a stiff neck. N.H. could not eat for days "because [her] jaw was locked" and wouldn't open due to injuries suffered during the attack. N.H.'s parents also reported that some of her hair was missing, presumably ripped out by Brown during the attack.

         Brown was charged by trial information on June 29, 2015, with the offenses of Count I, sexual abuse in the second degree, in violation of Iowa Code section 709.3(1), and Count II, false imprisonment, in violation of Iowa Code section 710.7. On December 14, 2015, Brown filed a waiver of jury trial. The matter proceeded to a bench trial on December 14, 2015. At the close of the State's case-in-chief, Brown moved for a judgment of acquittal. He argued that he was entitled to a directed verdict on the sexual-abuse-in-the-second-degree charge as the State had failed to present sufficient evidence that he used or threatened to use force creating a substantial risk of death or serious injury to N.H. The trial court denied the motion.

         On December 18, 2015, the district court filed its findings of fact and conclusions of law, finding Brown guilty of second-degree sexual abuse and false imprisonment. On January 25, 2016, Brown filed motions for new trial and in arrest of judgment. The district court heard the motions on May 2, 2016. On May 17, 2016, the court denied the post-trial motions. On June 27, 2016, Brown was sentenced to serve twenty-five years on Count I, sexual abuse in the second degree, and one year on Count II, false imprisonment. At sentencing, the district court found Brown reasonably able to pay and ordered restitution, including a $315.00 fine and 35% surcharge on Count II, a $250 penalty pursuant to Iowa Code ...


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