from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Lawrence P.
from the denial of an application for postconviction relief.
C. Heinicke of Kragnes & Associates, P.C., Des Moines,
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Bridget A. Chambers,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Mullins, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.
Sellers beat to death his girlfriend Laura Welch. The State
charged Sellers with murder in the second degree. The parties
reached an agreement pursuant to which the State amended the
trial information to charge Sellers with attempted murder and
two counts of willful injury causing serious injury, and
Sellers agreed to proceed with a bench trial on the minutes
of testimony. Following a trial on the minutes, Sellers was
convicted as charged in the amended trial information. In his
direct appeal, Sellers challenged the sufficiency of the
evidence supporting his conviction for attempted murder,
contending "because he had assaulted and beaten Welch in
the past, his intent . . . was only to beat Welch like he had
done before, not to kill her." State v.
Sellers, No. 12-0869, 2013 WL 105281, at *4 (Iowa Ct.
App. Jan. 9, 2013). This court affirmed his convictions.
See id. at *5. Sellers filed an application for
postconviction relief, which the district court denied.
Sellers timely filed this appeal.
postconviction relief proceedings are reviewed for
corrections of errors at law." Waters v. Iowa Dist.
Ct., 783 N.W.2d 487, 488 (Iowa 2010) (citing DeVoss
v. State, 648 N.W.2d 56, 60 (Iowa 2002)). However,
claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are reviewed de
novo. See State v. Straw, 709 N.W.2d 128, 133 (Iowa
prevail on his claim, the applicant must show "(1) his
trial counsel failed to perform an essential duty, and (2)
this failure resulted in prejudice." Id.
(citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 688,
687-88 (1984) and State v. Dalton, 674 N.W.2d 111,
119 (Iowa 2004)). "The claimant must prove both elements
by a preponderance of the evidence." State v.
Madsen, 813 N.W.2d 714, 724 (Iowa 2012) (citing King
v. State, 797 N.W.2d 565, 571 (Iowa 2011)).
"Failure to make the required showing of either
deficient performance or sufficient prejudice defeats the
ineffectiveness claim." Strickland, 466 U.S. at
700; see also State v. Graves, 668 N.W.2d
860, 869 (Iowa 2003) ("A defendant's inability to
prove either element is fatal."). If the applicant fails
to meet his or her burden on either element, the court need
not address the other. See Dempsey v. State, 860
N.W.2d 860, 868 (Iowa 2015) ("If we conclude a claimant
has failed to establish either of these elements, we need not
address the remaining element.").
establish counsel breached a duty, the applicant must prove
"that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was
not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the
defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Strickland,
466 U.S. at 687. "[C]ounsel's performance is
measured against the standard of a reasonably competent
practitioner." State v. Begey, 672 N.W.2d 747,
749 (Iowa 2003). There is a strong presumption of
counsel's competence. See Strickland, 466 U.S.
at 689 ("Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance
must be highly deferential.").
It is all too tempting for a defendant to second-guess
counsel's assistance after conviction or adverse
sentence, and it is all too easy for a court, examining
counsel's defense after it has proved unsuccessful, to
conclude that a particular act or omission of counsel was
unreasonable. A fair assessment of attorney performance
requires that every effort be made to eliminate the
distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the
circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to
evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the
Id. "Miscalculated trial strategies and mere
mistakes in judgment normally do not rise to the level of
ineffective assistance of counsel." Lado v.
State, 804 N.W.2d 248, 251 (Iowa 2011) (quoting
Millam v. State, 745 N.W.2d 719, 721 (Iowa 2008)).
establish prejudice, the applicant must prove "that
counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the
defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is
reliable." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. It is
not enough to show the breach had only some effect on the
outcome, as nearly any act or omission by counsel results in
some change to the outcome one way or another, but not
necessarily in a way that would undermine its reliability.
See id. at 693. Rather, "[t]he defendant must
show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different. A reasonable
probability is a probability sufficient to undermine
confidence in the outcome." Id. at 694.
first contends his trial counsel were ineffective because
they were unprepared to try his case and coerced him to
proceed with a bench trial on the minutes. At the
postconviction trial, Sellers testified he did not believe
his lawyers were prepared for trial. He was unaware of any
defense strategy. His lawyers had not informed him of any
work done on his case leading up to trial. Sellers testified
his lawyers repeatedly pressured him to proceed to a bench
trial on the minutes. He noted his jury trial was set for the
Monday following the Friday on which he finally agreed to
trial on the minutes. Sellers testified he reluctantly agreed
to proceed as recommended: "I really didn't see any
evidence of them preparing any kind of defense. . . . I
didn't see them ...