from the Iowa District Court for Taylor County, John D.
defendant appeals his convictions for murder in the first
degree and child endangerment.
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Shellie L. Knipfer,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Elisabeth S. Reynoldson,
Special Counsel, for appellee.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.
POTTERFIELD, Presiding Judge.
Hall appeals from his convictions for murder in the first
degree and child endangerment causing serious injury. Hall
maintains the district court abused its discretion when it
denied his motion for mistrial after one of the State's
witnesses vomited outside of the courtroom after a 911 call
was played for the jury. Additionally, he maintains there was
insufficient evidence to support his conviction for child
endangerment resulting in serious injury.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
2015, Hall was charged by trial information with murder in
the first degree and child endangerment resulting in serious
injury. His three-year-old daughter, J.K., was the alleged
victim in each instance.
charges were tried to a jury in January 2016.
State's first witness was Hall's live-in girlfriend,
April Clair. Clair testified J.K. had been staying with her
and Hall because she wanted their daughter and J.K. to become
acquainted. At Clair's urging, J.K. came to stay with
Clair and Hall (and Clair's other children) in April
2015. During J.K.'s stay, Clair witnessed Hall using
corporal punishment-hitting J.K. on the backs of her legs and
hands with a piece of wood that was sometimes used to hold up
windows in the home. At some point in May, Clair came home
and noticed a burn on the side of J.K.'s face. Hall told
Clair J.K. had knocked hot water from boiling hot dogs onto
herself. J.K. was not taken to the doctor following the burn,
but either Clair or Hall put some type of ointment on the burn.
further testified that one of her children graduated from
kindergarten on May 21. Clair, Hall, and the children spent
the day with the family of Clair's cousin, Annette
Wilson. Wilson and her family lived approximately one block
from Clair and Hall's home, and the families often walked
to visit each other. J.K. had been recovering from the flu or
a bug of some type, and she acted tired and reserved all day.
Hall and J.K. left Wilson's home shortly before Clair and
the rest of the children. J.K. did not want to walk, and Hall
picked her up, stating, "She's going to get her ass
beat when she [gets] home if she's not going to
Clair got home with the other children, she went up to the
bathroom on the second floor of the home, where Hall and J.K.
were. When she opened the door, Clair saw J.K. standing in
the tub without clothes on. Hall was holding the piece of
wood he had previously used to hit J.K. Clair saw that
J.K.'s "butt was raw, " "[t]here was no
skin on it." Clair also noticed an additional mark on
J.K.'s face near her eye, which Clair thought looked like
a carpet burn. When Clair asked Hall what had happened, he
stated, "She needs to learn how to fucken listen."
Clair noticed there was water in the tub and what appeared to
be skin fragments in the water. J.K. was not taken to the
doctor; Clair's nine-year-old daughter eventually helped
J.K. out of the tub, and Clair put underwear on her.
next morning, at approximately 8:30 a.m., Wilson called Clair
and asked her to go to the grocery store for her. On the way
out, Clair saw J.K. going to use the bathroom; she told J.K.
she was leaving and Hall was downstairs. Then Clair left to
go to Wilson's home, leaving only Hall and J.K. in the
checked out at a local grocery store at 9:23 a.m. She then
returned to Wilson's home, and Wilson cooked breakfast.
At approximately 11:00 a.m., Clair left Wilson's to return
home. As she walked up to her house, she saw Hall outside
smoking a cigar. Hall did not have any cigars when Clair
left, and later investigation showed Hall by himself
purchasing the cigar from a nearby convenience store at 10:14
a.m. Clair asked Hall about J.K., and he stated she was up
using the bathroom. Clair asked Hall to "get the car
ready"-their vehicle had a flat tire-so they could take
J.K. back to her mother's home in Chicago. At some point
during the conversation, Hall walked off to go to a tire
walked into the home, looking for J.K; she found J.K. laying
on her back on the bathroom floor. Clair picked her up and
heard "[l]ike an exhale, a sigh or something." She
carried J.K. into the dining room and set her down on the
carpet. Once she laid J.K. down, Clair realized J.K. was not
breathing and felt cold to the touch. Clair called Wilson at
11:33 a.m.; she then called one of Hall's friends
twice-at 11:35 and 11:36-and then called 911 at 11:36.
point in the trial, the State offered into evidence the audio
from Clair's 911 call and played it for the jury. The
audio is forty-three seconds in length; in it, a person-the
dispatcher-can be heard answering the 911 call, and then
Clair asks for an ambulance to be sent to her address. The
dispatcher repeats the address to Clair, and she confirms it.
Clair is then asked what the problem is, and Clair responds,
"My step-daughter, she's not breathing." The
dispatcher confirms Clair's identity, and then Clair
hangs up. Clair sounds upset during the call.
the audio was played, the prosecutor asked the court for a
short break. The court replied, "Why don't we go
ahead and combine this with our afternoon recess. We'll
be in recess for 15 minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, please
remember that admonition. Leave your notepads on your chairs
and be back in 15."
twenty-five minutes later, the court came back on the record
outside the presence of the jury. The following exchange took
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, Your Honor, thank you. Just prior to
recessing court for our afternoon break, April Clair, the
witness, essentially bolted and ran from the courtroom. She
left the courtroom. The jury left the courtroom immediately
behind her, and it's my understanding that April vomited
in a trash can just outside the courtroom right in front of
the jurors. She could be heard vomiting from the courtroom. I
heard it. I believe [the prosecutor] heard it. The defendant
Based on that, Your Honor, we believe that the
defendant's opportunity to receive a fair trial has been
[severely] compromised, and we would move for a mistrial at
It is difficult enough trying to base this on the facts
and-not facts, the evidence that is put forth in the
courtroom. The case should not be decided on things that
happen outside the ...