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State v. Kozak

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 6, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Christopher L. Bruns, Judge.

         Alexander Matthew Kozak appeals his conviction for first-degree murder following a jury trial.

          Alfredo G. Parrish of Parrish Kruidenier Dunn Boles Gribble Gentry Brown & Bergmann L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Genevieve Reinkoester, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and McDonald, JJ.


         Alexander Matthew Kozak worked at the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville, Iowa. He engaged in a verbal and electronic, semi-romantic relationship with a woman who worked at the mall, Andrea Farrington. When Farrington broke off the relationship, Kozak retrieved his gun, went to the mall, and shot her. Farrington died despite the heroic resuscitation efforts of a former combat medic, two nurses, and a landscaper, among others.

         The State charged Kozak with first-degree murder. A jury found him guilty as charged.

         On appeal, Kozak contends: (1) the State engaged in prosecutorial misconduct in cross-examining his expert about Kozak's mental state; (2) the district court abused its discretion in allowing evidence of certain admissions he made to law enforcement officers; (3) the State improperly referenced his decision not to testify; and (4) the trial was infected with cumulative error.

         I. Prosecutorial Misconduct in Questioning of Expert

         Kozak frames the first issue as follows: "The State denied [him] due process when, in violation of a sustained motion in limine, it invaded the jury's province and questioned a witness regarding [his] ability to plan, deliberate, and premeditate." The procedural history informing this issue is as follows.

         Before trial, Kozak notified the court of his intent to rely on a diminished responsibility defense. At the same time, he identified Dr. Andrew C. High as an expert witness. The State filed a motion in limine, seeking to preclude Dr. High from testifying to Kozak's "mental status or condition, " on the ground that he was unqualified to do so. The State explained Dr. High was "a Communication Studies professor" and "[a]ny testimony from him would be irrelevant." The State followed up with a second motion in limine, reiterating the irrelevance of Dr. High's testimony. The defense responded with its own motion seeking "to prohibit" the testimony of the State's experts "regarding . . . Kozak's mental state and whether he was capable of forming the requisite specific intent to commit the charged offense."

         At a hearing on the motions, the district court addressed the question "whether experts should be permitted to state an opinion . . . on the ultimate legal standards in the case, " which was "whether Mr. Kozak did or did not form specific intent." The court disallowed testimony on the legal standard, as follows:

As a general rule, experts are not allowed to render the opinion to the legal standard. Rather, they can talk about the factual predicate to the legal standard or the factual basis.
And I would expect that all the experts in this case, to the extent they are testifying, will limit themselves to testimony as to the factual predicate and not stray beyond that. And I would apply that to both sides of the case. We shouldn't hear Mr. Kozak did or didn't have specific intent, because that's really not a proper question. . . . [T]hat would be my ruling there.

(Emphasis added.) The court reserved ruling on the State's motion to preclude Dr. High's testimony as irrelevant pending an offer of proof on the nature of his opinions. Following the offer of proof, the court denied the State's motion, reasoning, "The standard for relevance in Iowa is exceptionally broad, " and Dr. High's proposed testimony goes "to the issue of whether [Kozak] may have 'Antisocial Personality Disorder.'"

         At trial, Dr. High testified to "whether or not certain people communicate easier electronically as opposed to in person." He opined, "[T]he Internet is an attractive channel of communication. It's easier to present or express yourself online than it is face-to-face. We talk a lot about face threat in communication. It can be less face threatening to present yourself online." He further opined that online communication "can" create some ambiguity because many "nonverbal cues" are lost. Finally, he stated certain text messages between Kozak and Farrington evinced "a relationship with some commitment, some intimacy, " which he characterized as an "off and on sort of relationship." In his view, "[P]eople who communicate primarily on line can certainly experience as intimate and committed a relationship as they can face-to-face, " but it was "hard to say about this relationship in particular."

         On cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Dr. High the following questions:

Q. Just to clear up for the jury-you're not a psychologist, right? A. I am not.
Q. And you're not a psychiatrist? A. I am not.
Q. So you don't have any information to share with [the jury] on [Kozak's] mental ...

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