from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Michael J.
defendant appeals from his conviction for first-degree
C. Smith, Appellate Defender, and Maria L. Ruhtenberg,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Jean C. Pettinger, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and
Stern appeals from his conviction for first-degree murder,
pursuant to Iowa Code section 707.2(1)(a) (2015). Stern
maintains the district court erred when it denied his motion
to suppress his confession after finding the waiver of his
rights was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently given.
He also argues the court erred when it refused to give the
requested jury instruction for voluntary manslaughter.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
9, 2015, police officers responded to a 911 call made by
Stern. After arriving at his home, officers found Stern
seated in a recliner in the living room and Stern's
daughter in a back bedroom; she was recently deceased from
gunshot wounds. When asked if he would be willing to go to
the police station to be interviewed, Stern agreed to go.
Officers helped him stand and locate shoes, and he walked
under his own power to the officers' vehicle and got in
the backseat. Stern asked if he could lie down during the
ride and then proceeded to do so. Officer Kate Avenarius was
making small talk with Stern during the drive when she
noticed that he had stopped responding and his eyelids were
flickering while closed. Officer Kurt Horch, who was driving
the vehicle, then took Stern to the hospital rather than to
the police department.
Anna Lorence and a nurse, Katie Harris, met the police
vehicle in the ambulance bay. When asked questions by Dr.
Lorence, Stern did not respond verbally, but he was able to
follow her commands to step out of the vehicle, stand, pivot,
and sit down in a waiting wheelchair. Stern's eyes
remained closed, and when Dr. Lorence asked him to open them,
he did not do so. She attempted to manually open Stern's
eyes, and he squeezed them shut so she could not. She
testified that was not a medical response but rather that
"it seemed like he didn't want his eyes open."
The doctor concluded there was not an immediate emergent
threat to Stern's life or health; he was taken into the
emergency room and the hospital began running standard tests.
Results from a drug test showed Stern had some opiates in his
system, which the doctor testified was consistent with the
pain medication Stern had been previously prescribed for some
chronic health issues.
he was in the emergency room, medical personnel asked Stern a
number of questions, such as his name and medical history,
and he repeatedly responded, "I don't know."
When lab technicians came to draw blood, they needed him to
confirm his name and birthdate in order to take the blood;
Stern stated he did not know a few times before ultimately
providing the correct answer. When testifying at the
suppression hearing, Nurse Harris noted Stern had reported he
did not know his name, but both the officers and medical
personnel had been using it with him and in front of him the
entire time he was at the hospital, and he had been
responding appropriately. Harris testified "there was
[no] medical reason for him to behave that way that [she]
could observe" and opined Stern may have been faking.
She also testified that his vital signs were normal while he
was in the emergency room other than his heart rate, which
was a little faster than normal.
Stern was at the hospital awaiting results on various tests,
Officers Avenarius and Horch began speaking with Stern. About
forty-five minutes into the interview, Stern stated he
"did something very bad." Officer Horch then
advised Stern of his Miranda rights; Stern stated he
understood his rights and he "didn't have anything
to hide." He then told the officers his daughter made
him so mad and she "pushed his buttons and he lost
it." He also stated that he shot her and then got
another gun and maybe a third gun and shot her again. At some
point later, when Officer Horch asked Stern questions about
how his wife had died, Stern ended the conversation.
was charged with murder in the first degree. He entered a
plea of not guilty and filed a motion to suppress the
statements he made to the police officers at the hospital,
arguing his waiver of his rights was not knowingly,
intelligently, and voluntarily given.
hearing on the motion to suppress Officer Avernarius
testified she and Officer Horch were with Stern for
approximately three or four hours in the hospital talking
(after the medical personnel had finished their evaluation of
Stern) and Stern answered questions appropriately throughout
that time and did not appear to have difficulty understanding
the questions. The officers testified Stern was in custody
but denied he was ever handcuffed or physically coerced.
Officer Horch testified he advised Stern of his
Miranda rights and Stern "told me he
understood, he wanted to talk to me, he wanted to help us
out. He knew what his rights were. He made that clear."
Officer Horch also testified that Stern became more coherent
the longer they were at the hospital but noted there was one
time while ...