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State v. Ernst

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 8, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JAMES ERNST II, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Andrea J. Dryer, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his conviction and sentence for first-degree murder in violation of Iowa Code section 707.2 (2015).

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Melinda J. Nye, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

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

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., McDonald, J., and Goodhue, S.J. [*]

          MCDONALD, JUDGE.

         James Ernst II appeals his conviction for murder in the first degree, in violation of Iowa Code section 707.2 (2015), arising out of the shooting of Orintheo Campbell, Jr. At trial, Ernst claimed he shot Campbell in self-defense. The jury rejected Ernst's defense and found him guilty as charged. Ernst raises several challenges to his conviction and sentence in this direct appeal.

         I.

         The record reflects the following. On the evening of December 5, 2014, Ernst rented a white Lincoln MKX in Cedar Rapids and drove to Waterloo accompanied by his friend Iviontae Jackson. Around 1:00 a.m., Jackson and Ernst met up with friends Shaumara Taylor and Katie Werner. For a reason never resolved at trial, the group stopped at a local convenience store. At the convenience store, Taylor got in a physical fight with a woman, Angela Norris, who had arrived at the convenience store in another car. Campbell was also at the convenience store. Campbell and his friends stopped to watch the fight between Taylor and Norris. One of Campbell's friends called other people about the fight; before long, there was a group of over fifteen people surrounding the combatants. Ernst testified he did not know anyone in this crowd except his three friends. The fight was recorded by the store's security camera.

         The fight between Taylor and Norris subsided after members of the crowd intervened. However, after several minutes, the two began fighting again. The second fight was not in the view of the security camera. What happened next is the subject of dispute.

         According to the State's witnesses, one of the bystanders, the father of Norris's child, tried to pull Taylor away from Norris. There was a verbal argument between some of the men watching the fight, Ernst fired his handgun, and Campbell was shot and killed. None of the State's witnesses observed any physical fighting between the men.

         According to Ernst, Ernst saw a man push Taylor in an attempt to break up the fight. Ernst then grabbed Taylor to drag her away from the fight. As Ernst dragged Taylor away from the fight, she continued to argue with the man who had pushed her. As Ernst approached his car, he heard a cocking sound, turned, and saw two men with their hands at their waists. Ernst testified he held up his hand and said, "Stop, this is just a girl fight. This ain't got nothing to do with me." One of the men, later identified as Campbell, allegedly replied, "No, fuck that. I'm Crip. I'm on that." Campbell then punched Ernst in the jaw, stepped back, and reached toward his belt. Ernst had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and had a gun on his person. Ernst pulled out his handgun and fired five shots at Campbell at close range. Ernst claims he aimed low to disable Campbell but recoil forced the gun higher. Ernst stopped firing when he saw Campbell put his hand to his chest. Ernst and his three friends fled the scene.

         After Ernst fled the scene, Campbell's friends drove Campbell to a local hospital. He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at 1:51 a.m. Campbell had been shot twice, once in the chest and once in the neck. Meanwhile, Ernst returned to Taylor's apartment for roughly thirty minutes before leaving town with Jackson. Ernst went to Dubuque to visit a female friend. He then drove to Davenport to visit his sister. Finally, he returned to Cedar Rapids. The State alleged Ernst attempted to evade police for some period of time after the shooting. Ernst denied ...


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