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Wright v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 13, 2017

JEREL LAMAR WRIGHT, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Monica L. Ackley, Judge.

         Appeal from the denial of an application for postconviction relief filed pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 822 (2013).

          Travis M. Armbrust of Brown, Kinsey, Funkhouser & Lander, P.L.C., Mason City, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Linda J. Hines, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Mullins, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         Jerel Wright was convicted of attempted murder and voluntary manslaughter for the stabbing of Derrick Tye and the stabbing and death of Jermaris Lorez West. In State v. Wright (Wright), No. 10-1330, 2011 WL 2041578, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. May 25, 2011), this court affirmed Wright's convictions on direct appeal and preserved for postconviction-relief proceedings certain claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. In Wright v. State (Wright II), No. 12-2101, 2014 WL 636150, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 19, 2014), this court affirmed the denial of Wright's application for postconviction relief. In this case, Wright appeals the denial of his second application for postconviction relief. Wright claims his trial counsel provided constitutionally deficient representation in four respects. Our review is de novo. See State v. Schlitter, 881 N.W.2d 380, 388 (Iowa 2016).

         I.

         Some of the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding the offense are set forth in our prior opinions. See Wright II, 2014 WL 636150, at *1; Wright, 2011 WL 2041578, at *1.

On or about September 7, 2009, Wright was involved in a street fight. Two of the participants were stabbed. De[r]rick Tye was hospitalized as a result of his injuries. Jermaris Lorez West died as a result of the injuries he sustained. Wright was immediately arrested and taken into custody. Wright initially exercised his right to remain silent in response to law enforcement efforts to interrogate him. He was permitted to call his mother, and she told him to tell the officers what he had done. He responded accordingly and admitted stabbing Tye and indicated he had tried to kill him but did not admit to stabbing West. Wright was charged with the attempted murder of Tye and the second-degree murder of West. His statements were admitted into evidence at trial.
While Wright was incarcerated in the Dubuque County Jail he was visited by Sister Rosanna Gleason, acting as a chaplain or chaplain's assistant to the residents of the jail. Wright wrote a letter in which he admitted stabbing Tye and put it in an envelope which he gave to a jailer for delivery to Sister Gleason. The letter did not admit that he stabbed West. The letter was opened by the jail staff and admitted into evidence at trial.
Neither Wright's admissions to the interrogators nor his letter to his assistant chaplain were challenged by a motion to suppress, and both were admitted at trial without objection. Wright and his counsel had determined that he would testify. The evidence was overwhelming that he had stabbed Tye and substantial that he had stabbed West. The blade of the knife recovered at the scene had blood with DNA matching both Tye and West. Wright was found guilty of attempted murder as charged and voluntary manslaughter instead of murder in the second degree.

Wright II, 2014 WL 636150, at *1.

         The event precipitating the street fight occurred the evening before the street fight. That evening, Wright had sexual intercourse with a woman who was pregnant with Tye's child and who was the mother of Tye's children. At some point after Wright had intercourse with the mother of Tye's children, Tye arrived at the home where Wright was. Tye was accompanied by Shelby Redmond, De'Andre Murphy, Deonte Howard, and Jermaris West. Tye confronted Wright, and a fight ensued. Tye and two of the other men beat up Wright, striking him with their fists, a six-pack of soda cans, a flower pot, and a fire extinguisher. West intervened and broke up the fight. Wright left the home and went to a nearby park. Wright testified his lip had a hole in it, his nose was bleeding, and he had lumps and knots in his face from the fight.

         The following day, Wright and Tye, personally and through intermediaries, communicated with each other by telephone. Depending on whose testimony is credited, Tye made threats against Wright or Wright made threats against Tye.

          Other persons attempted to resolve the situation before things got out of hand. Later the same day, Wright and his brother Joseph, along with several other individuals, were driving in a friend's car and they came across Tye and several other persons outside a residence. Joseph stopped the car, and everyone in the car exited the vehicle. After some talking and posturing between the two groups, Wright got into a fight with Shelby Redmond. The fight ended when an older gentleman, known in the neighborhood as "Unc, " intervened and attempted to break up the fight. West hit the man and knocked him out. Wright and his associates left the scene in their vehicle.

         The fight at issue in this case occurred not much later the same day. Wright gave one account of the fight. After regrouping at Wright's house, Wright testified he and his friends decided to walk back to the scene of the previous fight to check on Unc. When they arrived at the scene, Unc was being placed into an ambulance. Police were at the scene. Wright did not speak with the police. Instead, he, his brother, and their friends decided to go to Romaine Wheeler's house. They set out on foot and began jogging. Wright testified six or seven men started following them. When Wright and his associates turned a corner, they saw a car with West and other individuals in it. Wright testified he believed a fight was going to occur. Wright and his brother Joseph ran toward the men exiting the car and started fighting with them. Wright testified "twenty people" were involved in the fight. Wright testified he did not have a knife at the time the fight started. He denied stabbing West. Wright testified he saw Derrick Wheeler stab West. At some point during the fight, Wright testified, he saw the knife on the ground, picked it up, and stabbed Derrick Tye. Wright testified he "snapped back, " realized what he had done, and backed away. At that point, Romaine Wheeler kicked him in the back, which caused Wright to drop the knife on the ground. Wright testified he then ran. He was arrested a few blocks away.

         The State's witnesses gave a very different version of events. The fight at issue occurred in front of the home of Erica Palmer. She testified she saw a commotion outside and called the police. She saw LaShaun Runnels and Wright arguing. She saw Joseph and Derrick Wheeler "swinging on top of" Tye. Later, ...


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